- Donald Rumsfeld has ‘no idea’ if he paid taxes correctly
- Bradley Manning named honorary grand marshal of San Francisco Pride parade
- Look out PayPal: Facebook working toward mobile payments system
- U.S. rebukes Iran’s U.N. envoy pick over 1979 embassy attack
- Stoned mom avoids jail after driving 12 miles with baby on roof
- More than 100 ‘inappropriate’ encounters between NYC school staffers, students since 2009: report
- Joe Biden to Boston bombing survivors: ‘America will never, ever stand down’
- FBI failed to throughly vet Boston bombing suspect after Russian lead, report finds
- Atlanta Braves flooded with Hank Aaron hate mail: He’s a ‘scumbag’
- University: Help, our campus is too white
PRUDEN: Presidents in the Age of Twitter
Thomas Jefferson collected old books and French wines, Warren Harding collected poker buddies, and FDR collected stamps. Harry S Truman collected sheet music and played the piano.
But not so long ago, wife-collecting was regarded as over the line. Cats do it, dogs do it and even educated fleas are said to conduct serial impermanent romances. But presidents were held to a tougher moral standard.
Newt Gingrich, the latest Republican flavor of the fortnight, is testing the theory that Americans have outgrown making such moral judgments about politicians and their amours. Nelson Rockefeller thought he was on his way to the White House in 1964 when he divorced his blue blood wife to marry a lady named Happy. This was a mighty scandal, as difficult as that may seem to our randy, rowdy and enlightened age, but Mr. Rockefeller was regaining traction in the primary campaign when Happy birthed their child on the eve of the California primary. Barry Goldwater won a narrow victory and the rest, like Nelson Rockefeller, is forgotten history. Mr. Goldwater was swallowed in a November landslide, but his candidacy reshaped both his party and the nation's politics.
We've reduced our presidents since to mere celebrities, making them compete for public attention with the likes of Lady Gaga, Charlie Sheen and the usual assortment of hip-hop "artists." Moral standards are for sissies. The presidential debates have further reduced the candidates to pretenders to "Comedy Central," competing with puns, one-liners and bon mots, often auditioning for cable-TV talk shows. Mike Huckabee didn't make it to the White House but got a TV show, and he still gets an occasional mention as somebody's prospective running mate.
Since celebrities are celebrated for their easy banter about fluff, this is a rich environment for a talented big talker. Newt Gingrich, for example, who shoots with a blunderbuss that enables him to hit an occasional target even without aiming. Twittering was once what only crows and magpies did, but the politicians love it because it enables them to deposit sound bites in numbers big enough to splatter sidewalks and windshields from coast to coast. Newt claims 1.3 million Twitter "followers," while Mitt Romney and Herman Cain have only 200,000 followers each.
A president with a noisy enough gift of gab might Twitter and execute the office of president at the same time. "I think I will probably teach a course when I'm president," Newt told a New Hampshire audience the other day. "I will probably try to do something that outlines for the whole country what we're going to try to accomplish. It will be free." He expect to "use Twitter frequently," he told NBC News, "and speak to the country less." He thinks Americans "would like you to only bother them when it really matters." This is a fascinating vision of how a White House would work: The president Twitters away the country's troubles with all the free time on his hands.
"The idea would be, why wouldn't you want a president in the age of social media to methodically, in an organized way, share with you what they're going to accomplish so that those people who really won't understand it can understand it."
This would work, however, only if the rest of the world cooperates. John F. Kennedy once asked Dean Rusk in a moment of frustration why there was so much trouble in the world. "That's easy," his secretary of State told him. "At any given moment half the world is awake."
The Middle East alone, populated with demons and worms, supplies trouble enough that would put President Gingrich's Twitter account on hold. The uproar in Pakistan over the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in an errant NATO helicopter strike on a Pakistani border post demonstrates just how an unexpected event can impose on a president's Twittering time.
The Pakistani generals are not worth much as reliable allies, but they're all we've got. Like all rented allies, they're sometimes willing to help a little so long as the United States continues to supply then with weapons - just in case they get into a war of their own. There's no morality among nations, as Newt the Historian knows well. Chipping at the margins of a threat is enough to keep any president too busy to Twitter. Only someone divorced from reality would expect more than that.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
- PRUDEN: Loose-lipped politicians pay a debt to plain language
- PRUDEN: When capital punishment gets no sanction
- PRUDEN: Critics’ grudging praise for George W. Bush's paintings
- PRUDEN: Kerry's desperation meets Palestinian intransigence in Mideast peace process
- PRUDEN: Flatulent cows and the global warming scare
TWT Video Picks
By returning to goodness, the nation can achieve greatness once again
- Fuel-filled wings, ability to swarm: Pentagon offers glimpse at future of drone fleet
- Secret U.S. assessments show Afghanistan not ready to govern on own
- U.S. military on high alert as Ukraine troops trade gunfire with pro-Russian militants
- Russian fighter jet buzzes U.S. Navy destroyer in Black Sea
- Nevada Bundy ranch standoff could leave dirt on Harry Reid reputation
- U.S. Navy to turn seawater into jet fuel
- 'Culture of intimidation' seen in Nevada ranch standoff
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- Donald Rumsfeld has 'no idea' if he paid taxes correctly
- Wal-Mart forced to apologize for 'mistake' favoring English-speaking shoppers
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Top 10 handguns in the U.S.
Chaos as Manhattan building explodes