When President Obama spoke at Hampton University on May 9, he took some heavy shots at the modern media environment. He said information could become a distraction, a diversion, and could put pressure on our country and our democracy.
He went on to urge the graduating seniors to be skeptical of blogs, cable television, radio, and modern gadgets he doesn’t know how to use; naming iPods, iPads, Xboxes and Playstations as part of the problem.
Some of the president’s criticism is well founded. New media has allowed more people to have a venue to report on the issues of the day and add their opinions as well. He is also right that plenty of the people doing so have a casual relationship with the truth.
However, most of the president’s criticism is unreasonable. First, the president attacks modern gadgets as part of the problem. Setting aside that this president is attached to his BlackBerry, it’s foolish to suggest that iPods, iPads, and especially gaming systems are responsible for the information overload he speaks of. It’s like blaming the mailman for bringing you your bills.
Secondly, non-network media like blogs, cable, radio and apparently Playstations, are a huge reason President Obama was sworn in last January. This president utilized all kinds of new media to win support for his candidacy; from Twitter to Facebook, to the army of supporters who took to message boards armed with a lot less than perfectly factual information.
Of the information sources he cited, perhaps radio is the only one he didn’t monopolize to lead his efforts to defeat Senator John McCain, who, by the way, was ridiculed for not knowing how to use a computer. Attacking these new media sources now that opponents have started using them strikes a chord of hypocrisy for the commander-in-chief.
Aside from the reasons why this particular president has no right to make such a bold denunciation, the actual critique sounds somewhat Orwellian. Too much information isn’t good for you.
Now granted, the president did say we should be skeptical of too much information, not against the free flow of ideas protected under the First Amendment. No one should be concerned about the president imposing the Obama News Network and outlawing Fox, but the comments he made further the most problematic aspect of his governance—arrogance.
The current administration is governing from an ivory tower. They think government knows best. When healthcare was in trouble, the president told us we didn’t understand the bill. He told us we should take another look and couldn’t believe the plan was unpopular once we did.
Now the president is concerned the American people are being duped by bloggers and radio personalities like we’re uneducated and lack critical thinking skills. Whether he means to, it sounds like the president thinks the everyday people he championed during the campaign can’t figure out when Rush Limbaugh is injecting hyperbole into his dialogue.
For decades, it has been the liberal and progressive view that governments are the ones that solve problems. Today, it appears President Obama sees governments are also the only ones that understand problems.
When someone mentions socialism or “government takeover,” they are doing so for reasons like this. While we have certainly been sliding more in that direction in the last couple of years, our systems still remain distinct from those in social democracies. People aren’t crying socialism because of bank bailouts as much as they are crying “government takeover” because the president talks like he did at Hampton last Sunday.
This columnist urges the president to show more respect for the capacity our citizenry possesses. We are capable of understanding complex ideas and complex solutions even in the face of less-than-credible sources.
We’re only going to rise above our problems by meeting them head on and unfiltered. We’ve proved time and time again we’re up for it.