Long gone are the days when politicians only had to bring their "A" games to stump speeches and meet-and-greets. Now with the ubiquity of 24-hour cable news, online political coverage and even private citizens with digital cameras, politicians have to be more alert and focused in public than ever before. As former US senator and presidential candidate Fred Thompson tells it, this constant scrutiny carries a definite price for people running for office.
"You can't get away with nothing anymore," Thompson told an audience at CTIA Wireless. "As any candidate finds out, when you get off that bus, you are expected to know what happened 30 minutes ago on other side of world."
Thompson and fellow former US presidential candidate and senator John Edwards closed out CTIA Wireless this week by discussing how advances in Internet technology had changed the way presidential candidates make their pitches to the public. They agreed that the immediate nature of the Internet had its upsides and downsides, but concluded that candidates would simply have to adapt their behavior and expectations, as this technology won't be going away anytime soon.
Edwards emphasized that Web and mobile technologies had certainly been a boost for many campaigns, whether in the form of online fundraising or in organizing "meet-ups" between supporters. He also noted that his own campaign had success in recruiting people by having them send text messages to the campaign.
However, Edwards also said that while the advent of this technology has helped more people become connected, it hasn't necessarily made them more informed. To prove his point, he took an impromptu survey among the audience to see how many people could give a detailed account of how the remaining presidential candidates differed in their approach to fixing the economy; few audience members raised their hands. The reason that so few people are informed about these issues, Edwards contended, was due in large part to the major media's focus on personality-based politics.
"What you see covered by national media is not health care, global warming, or the economy," he said. "What's covered is horse race stories, who's up, who's down, who has the most delegates. . . . The American people deserve much more than that. The fact that you don't know some of these things is a reflection of the way that information is provided to you."