Whether it was the telegraph, radio or the Pony Express, the President of the United States typically has relied on the cutting-edge technologies of his time to communicate with the country. Some experts even argued that televised debates gave John Kennedy the edge over Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential Election.
No Chief Executive, though, has embraced and harnessed technology quite as well as Barack Obama has during his first 100 days in office.
Obama Holds on to the Smartphone
In a move that warmed the hearts of technology-lovers but irritated the Secret Service, President Obama made headlines when he refused to surrender his BlackBerry. On one hand, Obama’s love of technology makes him a real “President of the People,” but as any email user knows, private mailboxes are anything but private. The BlackBerry, even an ultra-secure one, can become a Presidential nightmare.
Additionally, President Obama comes under the scrutiny of the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which was enacted in the painful years following Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal. As a public servant, Barack Obama must archive his official records while serving in the Oval Office, only destroying outdated communications approved by an official government archivist.
The Technological President: Barack Obama Rides the Information Superhighway
Al Gore may have invented the Internet, as the old joke says, but President Obama races along the Information Superhighway at warp speed. Hosting the first online Town Hall meeting on March 26, he opened up an interactive dialogue with America, allowing approximately 100,000 questions and concerns to reach the Official White House website.
Thirty-two years earlier, President Jimmy Carter also was being hailed an innovator and great communicator, hosting the first Presidential radio call-in show. Moderated by Walter Cronkite, who said he would be “ruthless here in cutting off any long-winded statements,” Carter talked directly over the phone with callers from across the country. It was a bold move at the time and set the “folksy” tone of the Carter Administration.
President Obama Takes a Cue from Jimmy Carter and YouTube
In an age when anyone with a digital camera, editing software and a fast Internet connection can become a photojournalist on YouTube, having a President who publishes weekly video address seems perfectly natural. Honoring his commitment to the people of the United States, President Obama has been publishing a weekly video address each Saturday morning.
It can be argued that, once again, Barack Obama is taking a cue from Jimmy Carter, who reached out to Americans in a series of televised fireside chats. “Time Magazine” took some good-natured jabs at Carter’s on-air wardrobe at the time, dubbing him “Jimmy Cardigan.”
Carter, of course, was inspired by the leadership of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who kept in touch with the public through a series of addresses over the radio. Years before television became a staple in American homes, families gathered around the radio to hear what the President had to say.
Ronald Reagan also embraced the airwaves, giving regular radio addresses during his Presidency. On one memorable occasion, Reagan even joked about “outlawing Russia” during a microphone test, unaware that his words were being broadcast.
What’s Next for the Technological President?
As he moves out of his first 100 days in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama will continue to use technological advances to close the gap between the White House and the average citizen. These are bold, cutting-edge moves on his part and ones that are sorely needed after the serious communication gaps of the previous administration.
“Los Angeles Times,” Top of the Ticket Blog
The American Presidency Project – Jimmy Carter
Time.com, “Warm Words from Jimmy Cardigan”
Times Online, “BlackBerry-using Barack Obama set to become first President 2.0”