I like writing but I would probably not be a very good journalist. Why? Deadlines. Every day starts with blank paper that has to be filled, and that clock never stops ticking. Tick, tick, tick . . . Man, that would drive me nuts. I prefer to wait for inspiration, but those presses don’t wait.
Which brings me to today’s Joplin Globe editorial, a short essay of opinion in one of those white spaces that have to be filled. Every day. Hmm. Today’s anonymous editorialist chose to tut-tut over president Obama’s decision to “waste time” by releasing his long-form birth certificate. He or she felt this was a bad decision for a couple of reasons. One, waste of presidential time when, “The budget needs fixing . . . our armed forces, on three fronts need backing.” Second reason, that releasing the form would
encourage other wacko theories such as that Obama is a Muslim, a socialist or an alien from another planet.
I’ll be the first to admit that conspiracy theories are amusing to read about. But their existence and current ubiquity are disturbing. When some 40% of conservatives believe the birther nonsense, don’t you have to take it seriously? It has to be frustrating, it seems to me, for a president who is trying to take his job seriously to know the print and the TV media are being distracted daily by this swill and to know from the polls that it is resonating with the public. It seems to me that it was more of a waste of time to live with the distraction than to deal with it.
How much time do you think it took Obama to deal with the birth-certificate decision? I mean, it’s not like he had to sit down himself and write a letter to Hawaii – he’s got people who do that for him. If he’s like me, he probably made the decision in his mind while he was shaving. (I do some of my best thinking while I’m shaving.) Then, I’m guessing maybe 5 minutes of conversation, or less, with his chief of staff about the decision, and what, 2 or 3 minutes before the TV cameras explaining the obvious, that the birther stuff was a distraction we needed to put behind us, both for his sake and ours. (Ours? Yes. The body politic needs to be thinking about fixing Medicare, not conspiracy theories.) Was it a distraction for Obama? It sure would have been for me – the birther stuff was nasty and personal.
What about the idea that releasing the form would encourage other conspiracy theories? Well, it sure won’t discourage them, but I really don’t think it will encourage them either. With the “cloud” of the internet we are in new information territory. I have
just finished reading, “The Information” by James Gleick, which left zero doubt in my mind that this is so. (Absolutely outstanding book, by the way, and destined to be seminal in its field.) Never before in history has access to information, right, wrong and twisted, been so easy or so fraught with peril. Nobody knows how this is going to come out, including whether a representative democracy can survive the mixture of information and misinformation that make up the cloud. It is evolving into something, we know not what, even as we speak. Distraction is here to stay, but I submit that it was not a waste of time to try to tamp it down. Now, maybe Obama can think about Hamid Karzai, or whatever, while he’s shaving.