So here we are, only 52 days into the 44th president’s tenure, and people are already quarreling about how to label President Obama. Is he the next Lincoln or FDR? Can he squash the national deficit like Super Mario did to so many goombas? Those analogies will have to wait for another three to seven years to pan out, but I’ll do my best to perpetuate the madness and throw my hat into the ring. We may not be able to call him the Dollar Deity just yet, but there is one place President Obama has already firmly put his mark: the Internet.
Yes, where Obama has made the biggest impact so far is in how the proverbial “series of tubes!” (copyright Sen. Ted Stevens) has been put to use in the political world. He did not manage to demolish the previous record for private fundraising in a presidential election by going door to door and asking for handouts. Instead, he and his campaign team utilized the practically virgin fields of mass e-mails and Web sites to get supporters to open up their checking accounts.
When comparing the dollar amounts that Obama raised with what Sen. John McCain did, it would seem as if McCain had used a telegraph to communicate with his supporters. Obama raised almost twice as much as McCain; meanwhile, the popular vote only went in Obama’s favor by seven percent. Now, whether Obama’s message of “Yes We Can” being superior to McCain’s “dot-dash-dot-dot-dash” caused the fundraising disparity or not, it’s not hard to point to the Web as a major difference maker. Candidates themselves aside, that kind of discrepancy is not so much a condemnation of McCain’s campaign as much as it is the sign of how powerful presidential spam can be.
Even after winning the election by making it rain in e-dollars, President Obama has shown no signs of giving up on the medium. Some of the other Internet ventures he has undertaken while in office include a complete overhauling of the White House Web site, weekly presidential podcasts and even creating a page on YouTube dedicated to the POTUS himself. And while nobody plans on listening to Obama lecture us about fiscal responsibility while on the treadmill, his embracing of what the Internet offers has done more for his legacy than any stimulus plan will.
But for those still clamoring to attach Obama to presidents of the past, there are two instances from which a parallel can be drawn. Both presidents John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt revolutionized the political landscape in how they used the newest media venue available for their benefit. FDR did not gain as much support for his New Deal plans as he did by sending them through a telegraph. Instead, he used the radio to deliver his famous fireside chats to establish a more intimate relationship with the American public. Likewise, JFK was the first president to understand how pervasive television was in society. When he went up against Nixon in a debate, he and his handlers had the foresight to put makeup on for the television lights, leaving Nixon looking like a gross, sweaty old man.
While being technologically savvy does not necessarily make you an instant success, it seems like those who have been progressing with the times have also shown a progressive attitude in the decision making necessary for their time.