Dear Mr. President:
Early in his Presidency, George Bush was widely ridiculed for saying that he didn't read newspapers. Yesterday you told the New York Times that you and your staff don't pay much attention to blogs. With the greatest respect, this seems likely a strangely off-key remark from a tech-savvy President who shrewdly used the blogosphere to overcome Hillary Clinton's fame and money in the early caucuses and primaries; whose primary and general election campaign was driven in part by the internet where you generated popular support and raised hundreds of millions of dollars; who looks to Google CEO Eric Schmidt for economic advice; who gives a weekly address to the nation on the Internet; and who insisted on keeping his Blackberry in order to prevent being isolated in the White House bubble.
Surely you know, Mr. President, that blogs range from gossip about the Jonas Brothers or Hannah Montana (perhaps useful in dinner conversation with your daughters) to analysis by leading economists on the fiscal crisis (useful perhaps in considering a range of policy views for dealing with insolvent banks). At a time when major newspapers are cutting back, closing down, or converting to the internet (just last week Denver's Rocky Mountain News went out of business and Seattle's Post Intelligencer announced it may be converting to an online-only publication) the blogosphere is becoming an increasing central place to get both news and opinion. In 2009, saying you don't pay much attention to blogs is as if Woodrow Wilson had said he didn't pay much attention to radio or Dwight Eisenhower had said he didn't pay much attention to television.Moreover, Mr. President, your dismissive statement about blogs in the New York Times seemed oddly tied to the issue of bank nationalization.
"Part of the reason we don't spend a lot of time looking at blogs," you said, "is because if you haven't looked at it very carefully, then you may be under the impression that somehow there's a clean answer one way or another--well you just nationalize all the banks, or you just leave them alone and they'll be fine."
With all due respect, it's hard to tease out what you're driving at with this statement. Is it people who advocate bank nationalization whom you "don't spend a lot of time looking at"? Or is it just people who advocate bank nationalization in blogs, as opposed to in other formats?
To take one example, Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman has advocated temporarily nationalizing a few of the largest banks (no, not "all the banks") in his twice-weekly New York Times column. He has amplified on this view in his daily blog which the New York Times now uses to extend its Op Ed pages beyond the print edition. So in which format are you uninterested in "spending a lot of time" considering Prof. Krugman's views on the banking crisis--the printed Op Ed format or the online blog format?
It would be really surprising, and a bit disturbing, if a President who has said he wants to hear the widest range of opinions on important issues before coming to his own conclusions on key policy decisions, would want to dismiss out of hand the wide range of serious economic thinkers who have come to advocate partial, temporary bank nationalization, whether their opinions come in the form of blogs or other formats.
It's likely that some very smart people, like Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, are providing you with compelling policy arguments why bank nationalization would be a mistake and its better for the federal government to keep all the banks private while making available new capital injections and trying to isolate their toxic assets in a "bad bank." But there are also some very smart people outside your administration who disagree after giving this serious thought. In addition to Paul Krugman, these people include Joseph Stiglitz, Nouriel Roubini, and even James Baker and Alan Greenspan.
One would hope that to avoid being isolated in the White House bubble, you would want to hear the views of these kinds of people--many of whom you know personally and some of whom were campaign supporters and advisors--and not to have all economic opinion filtered through Messrs. Geithner and Summers, whether these views come in the form of blogs, print articles, or from picking up the phone and calling some of these people or inviting them over for coffee. Or better yet, invite Stiglitz, Krugman, and Roubini to join you, Geithner and Summers (along with a bipartisan group of key Congresspeople like Graham, McCain, Schumer, Dodd and Frank) for a full and frank evening of discussion and debate among the nation's smartest economic minds about how to best solve the banking crisis.
It's not just the issue of the banking crisis about which you would find that serious thinking and analysis is occurring, among other places, in the blogosphere. In this Internet Age, blogs are bringing important information and carrying out serious debate about the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the mortgage crisis, constitutional rights, political strategy for Democrats, and a host of other issues about which you must make decisions every day.
Mr. President: You're an extremely busy man with very limited time to read. But surely your staff prepares daily selections and summaries of news and opinion to go in your "to-read" folder. I also understand that they show you a daily sampling of letters to the President from ordinary citizens. May I respectfully suggest that in this Internet Age, you ask them to include a sampling of the more interesting, thoughtful and provocative blogs among your regular reading material. I think you will find that it could help prevent you from becoming isolated in the White House bubble. You might even enjoy it.