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Kanye West and Easing Political Tensions With Digital

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The tension in our country after the passing of the health care bill seems to be at an all-time high. Harsh words, equally now with bullets, have flown freely. While many are appalled at the level of intensity, the interesting thing about much of the activity is the fact that the manner in which some of it is being analyzed seems, in some instances, to add more to the divisiveness than to quell it.

Case in point is that twice this week, political strategist Paul Begala has reached back in time to grab comments recording artist Kanye West made regarding his feelings about then President George W. Bush and his perceived level of compassion about African-Americans during the Katrina crisis (to put it diplomatically). Begala pointed to West's comment as a supposed example of disrespectful expression which should not be tolerated when it comes to political figures/country crises. Begala referred to the recording artist both in name and his musical genre on CNN's "The Situation Room" and then again used the same example though solely referring to the artist's musical genre (hip hop, rather than the general term of recording artist) later on CNN's new show "John King USA".

Now, we all know Kanye West is an easy target since he is perceived as outspoken. But is it really to Begala's, or any political strategist's, advantage to use this person and his affiliation with hip hop as a prime example of the hate-filled speech that is presently occurring over health care? Could this not perhaps drive a wedge even further between demographics and generations that already could benefit from a little more cohesiveness? And to possibly add insult to injury, Begala eagerly added that his disapproval of West's past comments received an unquestionable seal of approval since fellow political strategist Donna Brazile agreed with him (as if to say one Black politico's, of his approximate generation no less, approval validates his past counterattack hands down and gives him a pass).

While his using Brazile as support in this instance is somewhat lacking; Begala's overall quick comments could even be perceived as a bit ill-used not only because there is already so much finger-pointing in the air but also becomes it comes at a moment where when CNN could not only benefit from ratings increases from both additional younger and more diverse viewers who very well may have felt and still feel in sync a bit with Mr. West's original comment; but moreso it is perhaps indicative of what could be viewed as a missed opportunity for dialogue and exchange with, rather than immediate dismissal of younger constituents' views during any time tensions in our country run high.

Best platform for dialogue with 18-34? New media, of course. And savvy, younger politicos are starting to understand this more and more. In fact Brooklyn Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a proponent of new media usage in his office, told me that it's up to every responsible public servant and strategist to find ways to interact with the entire community, including the younger voter. And he says that he has found that Facebook to be the single most important community device for him since being elected in terms of engaging younger voters in opinions, even though heated at times, about civic affairs and electoral policy. Jeffries' team is also at work expanding his YouTube channel as well.

Needless to say, news media outlets would also do well to increase its pool of consistent contributors from younger, hipper and diverse peoples who also have a strong grasp of social/digital media to help balance the perspective while potentially even bringing along fresh viewership and "followers/friends" who resonates with their tone.

As Assemblyman Jeffries said, "The increasing diversity of young America coupled with the power of their new media usage means that policy makers/strategists would do well to think about how the future will play out."

Dare one add to this list, news media outlets, as well.