Monday, November 21, 2016


When I was born FDR was in his third term as president, and he would go on to be elected for a fourth time, the reason the presidency has ever since been limited to two terms. He was so enormously popular partly because he mastered the main medium of his time, the radio. His famous "fireside chats" were used to explain his New Deal policies to anyone near a radio, which was a vast majority then, and to stand up to his critics, especially among his fellow wealthy.

JFK was the first president to make regular press conferences a common sight on television, the medium of the time, which his charm and mastery of history and the details of governing commanded brilliantly, but unfortunately he never finished out his first term.

Reagan was the first president to use the "photo op" and "sound bite" for television consumption, his advisers staging his "press conferences" for maximum propaganda impact, which too often worked. Distracting from his actual policies by framing any discussion in terms of his often affable persona in a TV friendly setting.

Bush junior took that a step further by his administration making sure all spokespeople, cabinet members, press secretary, et. al. used the exact same framing of any topic, even using the exact same phrasing, which John Stewart often pointed out on his Daily Show.

Part of Trump's political success in his primary campaign and subsequent presidential campaign was his understanding, conscious or accidental (though the former seems obvious to me), that the medium of the present moment in our country and history is social media and its reducing of "news" and "information" to soundbite size on twitter.

Like Reagan and Bush Jr. he uses his tweets to distract the media and voters from any significantly dangerous (to his power) news by misdirecting them to focus on, say, his vice president's being partially booed (with some cheers) by an audience at a Broadway musical, most of whom are likely aware of his history of anti-gay policies (as governor and in Congress), pronouncements and personal history.

The Republicans have been better at framing the story, and at creating the story, ever since Reagan, with Democrats still assuming facts and data and policy positions can compete with that. Time for new strategies, including conquering whatever future medium is on the horizon.

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