As I begin this piece, I have to admit that it sounds more than a bit presumptuous for a blogger to recommend that the President of the United States needs to read more blogs. But actually, I will go even farther and say that any of the candidates for that office needs to spend time, a lot more time, reading political blogs. And I mean the candidates and the President in person; you won’t get what you need from having a staffer write up a summary to go over in 45 seconds.
Let’s start with the status quo; President Bush says he does not read the papers, and I believe him, insofar as he does not dwell on Op-Eds and what this talking head or that wants to sell the country. But I am sure that the White House has people who do read what’s in the papers and on the television, and they do report to various entities a sense of the national mood and climate. Rove and Hughes would give Dubs a bop on the head right out of the V-8 commercials if he tried to ignore the media that completely. So the idea of getting feedback from the media is a well-established practice for politicians.
The problem is, the MSM is no decent barometer for what’s going on out there. The television and print media are, almost exclusively, watching the Bush White House in the predatory manner, always looking for a weakness to exploit, the next great lever to use to tear down the best President in a generation. I think that’s what Bush meant when he said he doesn’t worry about the newspapers, that there’s no good reason to give that pack of jackals any attention or the pleasure of thinking that they make a difference.
The thing though, is that for all my approval of the Bush Administration, they have goofed a few of the calls. In the case of the Meirs nomination, for example, while it is true that no one really knows how good or bad a SCOTUS justice Miers might have been, there is no question that President Bush was completely caught by surprise by the hostility and venom from Conservatives after he announced his pick. No, that does not mean Bush should kowtow to political thugs when he makes decisions, but knowing what would happen from a Miers nomination would have helped the White House at least prepare a better defense for Miers. The same with the Dubai ports deal; the deal was a good one if seen in its proper perspective, but again the blow-up destroyed the chance for the United States to advance an advantageous Foreign Policy initiative and thwart Chinese ambitions in both the Middle East and with regard to U.S. ports. But in both cases, the mood of Conservatives was not understood by Bush, even though bloggers had set the tone well ahead of the events. Also, if President Bush held any notion that the Democrats could be trusted on any major initiative, even to keep promises made in confidence, the major Liberal blogs would have made clear that the Democrats had undertaken a major ideological war; they would assist a Republican no more than Fidel Castro would renounce Communism. But again, in several signature bills President Bush chose to trust the Democrats to keep their word, even when the blogs warned well in advance that the Democrats would break their bargain as soon as they found it to their political advantage to do so. The blogs, if you note them, serve as a decent Early Warning system for the response of the politically active groups. Certainly, there should be someone aware of the issue discussions who could send a printout of a key blog debate with a suggestion along the lines of ‘Sir, you should take a look at this’.
That advice may sound like I am selling the blogs as a tactical resource, and in some cases I certainly do mean to say that. But what else makes the blogs worth noting, is the reader commentary. The network television news and newspaper Op-Eds speak in monotonous soliloquoy, while blogs often fire up intense debates. Anyone should be able to recognize the difference between a blog post which gets 4 or 5 comments in a day, and one which gets a hundred responses almost immediately. If nothing else, the White House would do well indeed to notice which issues really do reflect the priorities of the people.
This usefulness for blogs certainly also extends to the current candidates. Some of the most glaring mistakes by contenders are also mistakes which could easily have been avoided. In the Republican race, Rudy should have understood how front-loaded the race had become, and maybe he would have realized ahead of time that by waiting for Florida, he could be in a desperate strategic situation. Fred could have understood that he had millions of potential supporters, but who were worried about his perceived level of energy, and early level of commitment to the early race. Romney could have understood that his Mormon faith was not an issue for most Republicans, but his image appeared too controlled and artificial to catch fire. As for the Democrats, Hillary could have understood that she does not win support when playing ‘attack dog’. Obama could have understood that when you don’t know anything about foreign policy, it’s best to shut up before you make yourself look like a dangerous fool. And Edwards could have realized long ago, that this is not 2004, and if he could not do better than runner-up to a walking doorstop in 2004, he would hardly fare better now.
In conclusion, it’s obvious that for all their attempts to appear cutting-edge and savvy, where blogs are concerned the President and his would-be successors are still well behind the curve.