Think tanks and foreign services that shun social media are being left behind
The boundaries between journalism, intelligence, diplomacy and think tank analysis are dissolving at a rapid rate, thanks to the unstoppable advance of social media. It is not entirely an original thought—Daryl Copeland, the Canadian diplo-wonk and author of the book Guerrilla Diplomacy, has made a similar point recently (and on his blog, naturally). This process of creative destruction has a long way yet to play out, so its full implications are far from understood.
What is clear is that the job descriptions for hacks, spooks, diplomats and wonks are becoming less and less distinct, blurring at the edges into a spectrum of geopolitical knowledge makers and manipulators. Sure, there will always be important differences: for spies and journalists especially, the most precious information will always be what someone else does not want them to know.
Matt Glassman, who also includes an H.L. Mencken quote:
Whenever a reporter is assigned to cover a Methodist conference, he comes home an atheist.
My new piece at American Review could, in one sense, be read as concern trolling, but it wasn’t written in that spirit. Springing off the Joe Ricketts story, it’s a discussion of how so many Republican electioneering attempts thus far in the campaign have been targeted against the president as conservatives imagine him to be, which, I believe, is something different to how the rest of America sees its president.
I find the conservative take on Obama, and the Obama presidency, rather interesting. Not so much the really out there stuff — birtherism, Kenyan anti-colonialism, etc. — but the things that run-of-the-mill base members believe. What makes it all such a mess is the overlap between the right wing fringe and the Republican mainstream, and how difficult it is to separate the two. For instance, many conservatives believe Obama is a dunce (the teleprompter, the idea that he relied on affirmative action for his education) and an arrogant fraud (the “celebrity” thing). Undoubtedly that’s a belief that, for a lot of people, is motivated by uncomplicated racism — but for many others it arises from a sincere failure to understand the appeal of the man or his policies, and so, to these folks, accusations of racism look like an attempt to silence criticism of the president.
I’m also fascinated by the constant accusations on the right that Obama has wantonly disregarded the Constitution. That’s because those accusations are so similar in tone to the ones the left made against George W. Bush in his presidency. I’m not going to fall into the trap of false equivalency: the left had an immeasurably better case than the right does. And though some of the right’s criticisms are grounded in fair concerns about the Administration’s foreign policy and anti-terror tactics, for the most part, they’re fairly groundless. But then, perhaps the left mixed in a lot of groundless accusations against the Bush administration along with its multitude of very real concerns?
The reason this happens is that America is a nation founded on an idea*. The only problem is that no one in America can agree on what that idea is, although they all think they’re personal conception of the idea is a universal one. And there’s a widespread belief that the Constitution is a pretty good attempt at capturing the idea. (The Declaration of Independence is an even better one.) So if you’re someone for whom the policies of a president like Barack Obama do not accord with your ideas of what America should be, then it makes sense that you will consider them in breach of the Constitution — the document that explains what America should be.
Anyway, this is venturing into territory I haven’t fully thought through. But my column is here. Read!
*This is a piece of American exceptionalism of which I firmly believe the truth. I can think of few other nations to which this applies; the states of the old world are ethnic entities, while few new world nations share such ideological origins. Australia, for instance, was founded out of a desire to preserve the colonial outpost’s Britishness, and we’ve spent our entire history trying to imagine what being Australian might be. See here for more of my discussion on this.