Saturday, January 29, 2005

Coming from an academic background in diplomatic and economic history that was heavy in archival research, I've read a lot of documents, diaries and memoirs of a kind that just aren't terribly likely to be seen again. One legacy of special prosecutors and " gotcha" journalism is that heavy-hitting statesmen today seldom keep the type of candid personal records their predecessors once did, much less tape recording conversations like LBJ and Nixon. What Stanley Kutler has done in his career will not be repeated by future historians. We're never going to have that kind of certainty of what really happened in the Oval Office ever again.

Which is a shame, not just for the historical record itself but for the intelligent student of public affairs. Presidents are subject to unending personal abuse to the extent that we forget that even the ones we generally considered mediocre were, at a minimum, shrewd and canny politicians. Jimmy Carter, often reviled for being "weak", crushed Ted Kennedy into the dirt when the bloated scion of Hyannisport challenged Carter for the presidency. Moreover, the best men who became Commander-in-Chief often had keen intellects and great insight into human behavior, history and philosopy. A few of them could legitimately have been described as geniuses.

In short, there's a lot of presidents who would have made excellent bloggers !

The first two that come to mind are John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. If you haven't read some of their correspondence, you should. The back and forth exchange, writing for history, for themselves and for the Republic, they established a literary dialogue that is without peer. As a blogger Adams would have been the more tart and the more frequent poster. If the marginalia of his personal papers are any indication, Adams would have been an entertaining, curmudgeonly, partisan. Jefferson would have penned longer, more elegant, posts than Adams and let his blog lapse into silence for long periods of time. Nothing of a personal nature would have crept into Jefferson's posts but the sheer range of topics on his blog would have been fascinating. To have matched Jefferson in this regard we would have had to have given Leonardo DaVinci and Aristotle their own Blogger accounts.

Two others who would have been naturals in the blogosphere were Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. Truman was a serious reader of history, caustic in his judgements, sometimes letting his temper get the better of him. Harry Truman as a blogger would have had a lively comments section with readers reacting to his unvarnished opinions which would have been more like Truman appears in Plain Speaking than in his autobiography. Ronald Reagan, contrary to liberal myth, was a fine writer and thinker in his day, with a smooth touch even when he was driving home his point. Reagan probably would have cut a more modest figure in the blogosphere than he did in politics. The Gipper was, first of all, a master of presentation and delivery which are intangible qualities of personal charisma, hard to translate into prose. Secondly Ronald Reagan was simply too nice and gentlemanly in an old-fashioned way to mix it up the way bloggers do.

Abraham Lincoln we must include because of the Gettysburg Address, which is short enough to be a post, and for Lincoln's humor and insight into human nature. Teddy Roosevelt, amateur historian and one of America's first media celebrities, would have tried to take the blogosphere by the throat. " T.R.'s Corner" would have been a colorful, blustering, blog. Teddy's daughter Alice would have had one too and her lethal wit would have given Wonkette a run for her money. Richard Nixon was angry enough to be a blogger but his paranoia and insecurity about his image would have drained his blog of the real expertise and analytical brilliance Nixon had to offer on foreign affairs and politics.

John F. Kennedy would have had a blog but Ted Sorensen would have done all of the posts. And it would have ranked at the top of the Ecosystem.
Hilarious! Thanks for the post!
I've wondered whether blogging would be a plus or minus for a political career ever since people started chanting "Lileks '06". It certainly would humanize you with the voters and would make pulling quotes out of contacts in a classic "gotcha" much more difficult because the context would be instantly available. An attack without a link to the actual article that would provide needed context would soon be treated as BS partisan noise. On the other hand, it's hard to write often without being wrong, or even a legitimate jerk at least once in a great while.

Would a blogger get your vote?
Much thanks Dan ! Glad you liked it.


Yes, depending on the blogger in question, they could get my vote.

When you exclude the great swath of the blogosphere that consists of 14 year old girls and semi-dead blogs where the owner posts several times a year, you get an upper crust of substantive writers and thinkers.

Excluding the obvious wingnuts on the extremes there are quite a few bloggers who strike me as an intellectual cut above the average Congressmen regardless of their politics.

But good blogging and good political skills are two different things. You or I might be well informed and also think quickly on our feet but do we have the wherewithal for the drudgery and schmoozing involved in daily networking for a politician? I don't.
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