Sunday, May 9, 2010

Obama vs. the Marketplace of Ideas

President Obama delivered an important message to the new graduates of Hampton University today. Defining their new responsibility, he said say that they were being called upon: "To be role models for your brothers and sisters. To be mentors in your communities. And, when the time comes, to pass that sense of your education's value down to your children, a sense of personal responsibility and self-respect. To pass down a work ethic and an intrinsic sense of excellence that made it possible for you to be here today." Link here.

Well said, Mr. President.

Unfortunately, Obama managed to obscure his own message with a slightly-less-than-coherent rant against Steve Jobs and the rest of the media. He said: "'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 that high on the truth meter.... And 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...."

I feel qualified to comment on this passage because I too do not know how to use the named gadgets. I am told, however, that the iPod is mostly for listening to music, and that Xboxes and Playstations are mostly for playing video games. I am not entirely confident that I understand why these instruments of entertainment are instruments for purveying information.

Most people do not get their political news or social commentary from their iPods or their Xboxes.

As for the iPad, I am reliably informed that it can provide you with much serious, as well as unserious, informational content. For my part I refuse to reject it because it makes that content look good.

It was bad enough when Obama was attacking certain news organizations and the blogosphere. Blaming his flagging popularity on Steve Jobs strikes me as a step too far.

Be that as it may, doesn't it strike you that Obama does not have a great deal of confidence that the marketplace of ideas can sort through all of the arguments and counterarguments. Hopefully, he will soon figure out that the media will portray him as a more competent leader when he becomes a more competent leader.

Didn't Justice Holmes say that free trade in ideas was the best way to reach the truth? Shouldn't we rejoice that all of these different viewpoints are competing for attention and adherence in a free intellectual marketplace?

Despite what Obama thinks, every newspaper and book and magazine editor I have ever heard of will tell you that the best way to communicate complex ideas is by presenting them in the form of a story, with entertaining vignettes, and concrete examples.

History books can be wonderfully entertaining. That in no way detracts from their ability to present information.

As for what we do with the information, it is really up to us. We can use it to make decisions about who to vote for, or we can apply it to the way we conduct our lives.

I would guess that Obama is trying to say that we should choose fact over fiction, enlightened reason over vulgar superstition, clear thinking over muddled platitudes. If so, he certainly has a point.

Most people would agree. As it happens, the more people learn about Obama, the more they see him in action and compare him to the fictional persona he presented during the campaign, their enlightened reason and clear thinking is telling them to vote for someone else in the next presidential election.

In that case I would agree that the truth can be empowering and liberating.


Ralph said...

Obama is a controlling person. It is not the technology that scares him, for he gave the Queen of England an ipod with his speeches on it and used the internet like a master in the 2008 election.

As Helen Thomas noted, she's never seen anything like this WH for manipulating the press.

He is also a loner. He doesn't make friends easily in the manner that most Americans are familiar with. It is not because he is too brilliant, it is because he lacks the ability to be humble, emphathetic, and generally lacks social graces or resists instruction in them (offending allies).

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Becky. You must be the first to recall that Obama gave the Queen of England an iPod with his speeches.

Great point, and one that reveals the level of deception behind the man.

Someone who has to stoop to deceive in such small matters clearly has a problem.