Monday, May 10, 2010

Obama is now a Luddite? Uh huh.

Quite a few pundits and bloggers are making quite a bit of Obama's commencement speech at Hampton University, in which he seems to declare war on modern technology:
"You're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't always rank all that high on the truth meter," Obama said at Hampton University, Virginia.

"With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation," Obama said.

He bemoaned the fact that "some of the craziest claims can quickly claim traction," in the clamor of certain blogs and talk radio outlets.

"All of this is not only putting new pressures on you, it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy."
I'm not going to worry too much about his trying to get rid of iPods. That is pretty much ridiculous. His much-lauded youth support would turn on him in an instant. They may anyway, since he seems to denigrate some of the most popular forms of entertainment around while in the same breath claiming he's never used them. Few things rankle youth than adults criticizing their favorite past-times without having given them a fair try.

But frankly, I think Obama is being less than truthful. This is, after all, the same president who had to fight to keep his Blackberry. You're telling me that he wouldn't know how to use an iPod? And while it's possible that Sasha and Malia don't have an Xbox or PlayStation, I'd be very surprised if he's never used one. In any case, such an admission is hardly becoming of the president everyone once lauded as the most tech-savvy president ever.

What is also sad, though, is Obama's apparent lack of historical perspective. While it is certainly true that modern media isn't always reliable as a source of truth, and that crazy ideas can spread like wildfire, this is nothing new. In the days of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson there were rag-sheets and tabloids spreading a constant supply of information not just of of questionable veracity, but out-right libel. Nor was is confined to one side of any issue. While they may not have been spread across the country within seconds, they certainly spread quickly enough to be difficult to combat.

So for Obama to start complaining about this now either shows that he is completely unfamiliar with the history of American political discourse, or that he just doesn't like it when it's used against him. Heaven knows he's benefited from it when it's in his favor.

Welcome to real life, Mr. President. My advice is to start telling the truth yourself. If you and your administration would actually live up to the promises of openness, clarity and disclosure you offered in order to get elected people might actually listen to you instead of going to all of these sources your disparage. We were all hoping for a president who could talk straight and resist the urge to ding everyone who disagrees with him every time he opens his mouth. But it didn't happen. We got another bully pulpit. After awhile we stop listening and look for information elsewhere.

Might I suggest, Mr. President, that you might be better served by learning how to use an iPad yourself? Get out there and see what is being said and what the American people really want rather than barricading yourself in your Washington echo chamber. Perhaps you might begin to understand just why it is you're beating your predecessor to the bottom of the presidential ratings. It's not because people have iPods and PlayStations, Mr. President. It's because they have brains.

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