Free Obama and America from the Grip of the Punditocracy!

March 22. My friend Sam is a true radical old style  New York lefty whom I respect because he’s sharp and, while an atheist, he actually tithes by giving 10% of what he makes each year to causes he believes in – and his causes are well chosen. Recently, he’s been on a tear against President Obama.  He writes:

Read Michael Wolff’s “Barack Obama is a terrible bore” on today’s Huffington Post (or his website Newser). He’s [Wolff] a schmuck but I’m afraid he’s right. Obama’s blowing every chance,  And I don’t think he’s the communicator you need or the nation wants.  I doubt he’ll do the job next Tuesday. Too much a vapid neo-lib, beholden to all the usual suspects. The responses to Wolff are even more disheartening.

I’ve been trying to interest him in civic media, where it’s not Obama but ordinary Americans who are the great communicators, but no luck. Sam reads the pundits. And he moans and groans. Brilliantly. All day long.  I had sent him my latest civic media pitch, suggesting that Obama might support it or at least not get in the way of it. All he could say in response was what he says above. So I answered him as follows:

OK  Sam here we go. Tell me: what can you or anyone have against the idea of using modern interactive communications technologies to put all 300 million Americans on the same page in defining and solving the problems that confront us now – the financial crisis for one – and maximizing the opportunities as well?

Is it that the average American is too dumb or ill-informed to have a direct voice in the political decisions that affect his/her life?

Obama said again and again that America’s future depends on citizens having such a voice. For citizens to have it, the President need not be a Great Communicator or a Brilliant Inventor, he needs to be a Good Listener and a Sensible Leader. He needs to be intelligent and open-minded, which after reading “Dreams of My Father” I think he probably is, at least more than other President in memory including JFK and LBJ. The chapters on Hawaii, New York, South Side Chicago and Africa are impressive.

Granted, none of this speaks to Obama’s failure, as you note, to listen to Krugman and Stiglitz – or for that matter to Jack Bogle, Nouriel Roubini, Bill Gross, Martin Wolf or Meredith Whitney. However civic media dialogs will enable him to do so because these people are simply and clearly more in touch with the American people than the Wall Streeters who populate his inner financial circle. Even Alan Greenspan wants to shut down the big banks that Obama is propping up today.

When citizens have a direct voice – a channel to the president – Obama needs simply to listen, to respond and then to lead appropriately. America’s prime-time problem-solving dialogs will present to him, on an advisory basis, the informed will of the American people as determined in politically and financial themed reality TV game shows modeled on American Idol, which is actually an amazingly powerful vehicle for the dissemination and processing of complex information. Highbrows will object, but should bear mind that voter-driven American Idol mimics the great game of voter driven democracy, garnering 540 million votes in its sixth season. While admittedly used for purposes of mere mass entertainment, reality TV remains the most powerful large-audience decision-making process ever developed, not excepting even that of the voting booth.

Any of this make sense? If not why not? The best objection I can think of is that American ship of state is already too far on a disaster course for any changes to take affect. But that end-time scenario is irrational: we are not the Titanic heading for a fatal ice-berg. Something will arise from the ashes of whatever happens to us in the near-term future. Another objection is Noam Chomsky’s argument that the powers that be will never let it happen – yet he’s endorsed this concept, saying, as I communicated to you earlier, that it’s the only hope for the future. It is also the future that not only Obama but McCain advanced during the 2008 campaign.

I await his response – and that of anyone who wants to weigh in!

2 thoughts on “Free Obama and America from the Grip of the Punditocracy!

  1. spanishsystems

    It would be a lot easier to post a comment if we could grab a couple of concrete ideas from this blog.
    So my comment is that this blog has too many ideas in one posting. If you could summarize or challenge us with one or two things to start, maybe later the blog could lead to other related ideas.
    I think Obama has taken different approaches to the way a president handles media. That may plant a seed for something. It would be hard to measure at this point. I think public media only really change when regulation changes. There are still enough political forces that will sustain Republican, Democratic and nuetral media. Until the issue of Media becomes an economic issue, no one is going to make any significant efforts to modify mass media.

    1. stevesewall Post author

      Systems, thanks. Good idea to simplify. Gotta get the dialog going.

      You say no effort to “modify mass media” will be made until the “issue of media becomes an economic issue.” Not sure I understand – could you clarify?

      About Obama: he IS different: he’s calling for Americans to put aside partisan differences so the nation can focus on solving problems. Yet media have done very little to create the platforms where his problem-solving dialogs could occur.

      You say only REGULATION will bring about change in the medai. I think regulation might help – it could lead to the creation of public radio and TV programs, for instance, and also stronger programming in the public interest from broadcasters covered by the Federal Communications Commission. (Steve Coll, formerly of the Washington Post, made just these suggestions in Washington on May 6 – a link to this May 6 U.S. Senate meeting and thence to Coll’s testimony is at Part V of my “Future of (Chicago) Journalism” post.

      That said, I think it’s not regulation but MARKET (CITIZEN) DEMAND that will produce the problem solving dialogs of the kind Obama calls for. Of course I’d like to see him speaking up on this topic more than he’s been doing – but I’m certain this demand can be profitably tapped by small and large scale interactive media.


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