The Future of the American Presidency
In his State of the Union speech President Obama admitted that one of the things he most regretted that was partisanship in our politics had gotten worse since he has been in office. He was naïve to think that he would be able to bridge that gap. It is worse because technology has enabled all of us to live in whatever reality we choose. If I’m a staunch conservative I can watch Fox News, read the Daily Beast and the Wall Street Journal or any number of conservative publications that will tell me exactly what I want to hear. If I’m a progressive, I can watch MSNBC, read Huffington Post, or The Atlantic and I will get exactly the spin that I want. As the President said in his speech, the districts are gerrymandered for Congress to ensure re-election. This has decreased diversity within the states and diminished the voting power of minorities. The same technological environment that has allowed us to pick our own perspectives, sets of facts, and our own truths, has caused us to become much less flexible when we encounter disagreement. While there is one truth, there are several interpretations of that truth. Our problem is that we no longer view interpretations as interpretations which are subject to bias. We view interpretations as gospel truth that is supported by inalterable facts when most of the things we view as “facts” are just suppositions or opinion. This condition has made us more unwilling to have serious discussions with each other and has made our political dialogue untenable. Individuals on any side of any issue believe they are the sole proprietors of the truth and refuse to debate, negotiate, and compromise with each other to develop solutions. In the past we had gridlock but we were still able to pass a budget, raise the debt ceiling in order to pay our bills, and understand that any attack on birthright citizenship was a betrayal of American values.
In his speech President Obama said perhaps Lincoln or Roosevelt would have done better. History shows that they too faced staunch political opposition; they just did great things in spite of it much as Obama has done. Our problem is we have too much information, but we don’t have a filter for that information. It is often very difficult to know or to assert with any authority what is true and what is not. As a result a President cannot rely on the strength of his or her office or a political mandate in order to govern. An election alone will not convince people of the truth. The new President for the information age must be able to govern and also be “Campaigner in Chief.” This means that moving forward part of governing will be to pick the handful of big policy initiatives that are important and campaign for those issues in much the same way the position of presidency is campaigned for. In fact if we look at the candidates for President, the ones that have real energy behind them ie (Trump and Sanders) are the one who are campaigning for a cause.
The real regret of President Obama’s administration is that he did not use the same visionary tactics that got him into office to govern. His soaring oratory captured the nation’s imagination, but it was the innovation of his technologically savvy campaign that propelled him into the White House. Unfortunately once he got in office he forgot that not only does America need a new campaign style it also needs a new style of governance. President Obama should have held more town hall meetings on issues that he cared about such as income inequality, healthcare, and terrorism. This would have dramatized the issues and shined attention on the special interests involved in the same way the town hall on gun control shined a light on the machinations of the NRA.
Technology has shrunk our communities and allowed us to have an incredible amount of information at our finger tips. By embracing more frequent town hall meetings the President can help us sift through this information and better understand ourselves and our government. It is a lesson President Obama learned too late, the candidates currently running for President would do well not to forget it.