Keeping in Touch

Just before Barack Obama took to the stage for his acceptance speech in Grant Park, he emailed his supporters with a personal note of thanks and a promise: “I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next.” That promise came after months of a campaign whose ultimate strategy seemed to be keeping in touch: with emails, text message and a comprehensive website.

But now that he’s been elected, it’s more important than ever for Obama to keep in touch with a citizenry lost in the technical jargon of a recession and increasingly unaware of the world around them.

The political climate isn’t unlike that of the 1932 election, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt beat the incumbent Herbert Hoover for the presidential spot. Like Obama, Roosevelt inherited a depressed economy, a massive unemployment rate, and a public on the brink of loosing hope. I believe that, like Roosevelt, Obama has the potential to massively change our country for the better.

But in order to do that, he must keep in touch.

Roosevelt’s fireside chats, a series of thirty radio programs directly addressing American citizens and explaining the complex financial issues surrounding the Depression, were massively popular and greatly affected his influence as president. Roosevelt faced a Republican-dominated legislator, and the massive amount of letters that poured in to senators’ and representatives’ offices after a fireside chat were enough to pressure those legislators into passing some of the president’s more radical measures.

Obama will enter the White House with a Democrat-dominated legislator, and so he will not need help in passing legislation. Obama, instead, will need help in keeping face. That is to say, he may need to keep the public on his side in a war against the media.

The media has been anti-Bush, and anti-conservative, for so long now that we are apt to forget that the media isn’t naturally inclined to be anti-conservative, but rather anti-authority. The Watergate legacy of news media has left it with ample reason to doubt those in power, regardless of who they are.

And the media may have only been energized by the audacity of the Bush administration. The amount of news dedicated to politics and the amount of excitement concerning that news has only increased in the Karl Rove, WMD, wire-tapping era. And the outrageous Sarah Palin impersonations and other election news only elevated that level of elation.

That excitement regarding anti-authority political reporting isn’t likely to die down once Obama sits in the Oval Office.
In fact, because the 24-hour news networks admittedly pander to public interests, the amount of political coverage may increase given Obama’s popularity. And as long as Obama remains popular with the public, we may see and increase in favorable coverage of the White House.

But should Obama lose the trust and faith of the public, should he fail to deliver on his message of change, or should he abandon his message of hope, he could lose the favor of the public and the media will, no doubt, follow.

Thus, it is integrally important that Obama follows through on his promise to “be in touch.” He must do as Franklin Roosevelt did to win the affection of his supporters and his opponents (for fear of Fox News) and he must keep the trust of the American people.


Step Away from Anti-intellectualism

Today Nicholas Kristof wrote a great piece today in his column at The New York Times exalting Obama as a true intellectual, the first we've had in the white house since Kennedy. He calls last week's victory in the presidential race "a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life." Of course, I agree, but it's Kristof's definition of what exactly makes an intellectual that interests me most:
"An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions, and — President Bush, lend me your ears — that leaders self-destruct when they become too rigid and too intoxicated with the fumes of moral clarity."
The key is the distinction he makes between an intellectual's (presumably, Obama's) appreciation of uncertainties and contraditions, and the rigidity and "moral clarity" of so many of our anti-intellectual leaders (here, President Bush, but also John McCain and most of our recent presidents.) It's important to note that this distinction is not a Democrat-Republican distinction, or a conservative-liberal distinction, or even a conservative-progressive distinction. This is a distinction between those who see a clear, morally correct way of ruling and those who accept that they don't know it all, but are willing to try all options in pursuit of the most appropriate way of ruling for the time being. It's idealism vs. pragmatism.

In this moment, with the state of the economy and the military conflicts in the middle east, and the changing balance of power due to globalization, we need a pragmatist more than ever. No one knows what will happen in the next four years; we need someone who will be willing to look at the state of our nation objectively and explore solutions that may be unprecedented or unconventional, solutions that just may work.