I never imagined that I would feature the thoughts of David Axelrod in a neutral to positive light, but that's exactly what I'm going to do here. Axelrod spoke about his time at the Chicago Tribune Monday night at The Week magazine's "Sixth Annual Opinion Awards Dinner":
"When I began reporting, the news cycle was 24 hours, not 30 minutes. There was no cable or Internet. The pacing was different, as were the competitive pressures. Reporters were not asked to file five and six times a day; on three or four platforms; to blog and tweet.
"Don't get me wrong: the Internet and the availability of the latest news when you want it has enormous value. But it has also contributed at times to sloppy journalism and a dumbed-down public debate. It's become a carnival where every day is Election Day; where we're consumed with who's up and who's down; where we book people on TV to do nothing more than argue with one another, generating more heat than light; where we allow ourselves to be caught up in the trivial tempest of the moment. And I know my profession is not blameless. Folks in our end of the business often feel compelled to play along, feed the beast, and help contribute to an atmosphere of cynicism."
If journalists are not totally blameless, who else is to blame? Has it consumed leaders, thinkers and wanna-be leaders/thinkers on the Right (as well as the Left)? There's no doubt that the Internet has shortened everybody's attention span. Specifically for the Right, I think journalism's new negative effect on public discourse has hampered the Republican Party's ability to dramatically change for the better.
As Jon Henke points out in the last post, "repackaging the status quo is not how the movement and the GOP will be renewed." One of the reasons why the GOP might be sticking to repackaging the status quo is that often times going the "easy and lazy" route seems like the only option in a "30 minute news cycle." Axelrod provides another thought on this subject:
"That's why, more than ever, we need the true public thinkers. People who take the time to ponder and reflect and examine issues in a usefully provocative way. Serious people, with serious ideas."
Unfortunately for Axelrod, he works for a President who is a pretender, someone who isn't following the advice given above. Obama's version of "bipartisanship" is giving the visual of reaching out to conservatives, and then ignoring them when it comes to substantive matters. And Obama's ideas aren't new and provocative in any way: more government spending, more government involvement in the market, more government involved in energy, education, health care, etc. For now, he has successfully duped much of the public into thinking his ideas are "new" just because he himself is "new."
So unlike Obama, can the Right successfully take Axelrod's thoughts into practice? Can we produce serious people with serious ideas and fight the "dumbing down" of public discourse? Yes ...
- First, let's look outside of Capitol Hill for serious people with serious ideas. As I mentioned yesterday, a lot of great ideas on government transparency are coming from state legislatures.
- Second, lawmakers and other leaders on the Right should use the Internet more for promoting ideas than promoting themselves. (I know that this is a long shot.) For a Congressman to get a lot of Facebook friends and Twitter followers is fine. But when will that Congressman start a Facebook group about the need for more nuclear power plants in America to reduce our dependence on foreign oil instead of a Facebook message about how Democrats are bad? When will that Congressman tweet prolifically about immigration and become the go-to-guy/gal on that issue instead of only tweeting his/her office's press releases?
- Third, the Right should let ideas lead to movement instead of the other way around. Jon also comments on the recent formation of the National Council for a New America as a group that says "let's start an organization, then figure out why later." As he says, this does not inspire confidence. The Tea Parties showed a glimmer of hope for the Right after Rick Santelli rant; I just wished that there was more public discussion on the core substance of Santelli's message: moral hazard.
An overarching theme for a good public debate, as I have mentioned several times before, is the principle of an "equal opportunity society," where it becomes a discussion about whether government's job is to guarantee certain outcomes by picking winners and losers in society or to provide everyone the equal opportunity to determine their own success. Just as liberals want an active government that promotes specific outcomes, we have to be for an active government that promotes choice and freedom instead of just relying on the "less taxes, less government" message.