Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Talk Back Time

Tech President points out in "Talking Back to Obama's First State of the Union, via YouTube" that, according to the White House blog, the Commander in Chief will respond to video comments from citizens that are posted to the popular video-sharing site.

After the President's speech begins this Wednesday (1/27) at 9pm EST, anyone will be able to submit a follow-up question and vote on others at YouTube.com/CitizenTube. Then next week, the President will answer questions in a special online event, live from the White House.

Tech President is generally enthusiastic about establishing this historical precedent and the pose of accountability and gesture to populism that it represents.

History has often seen American presidents using State of the Union addresses to make from the podium grand promises that lack substance, announce great-sounding policies and programs without the political plans in place to actually enact them, and otherwise make statements from the podium that pretty much demand follow up. For example, President Bush's unexpected reference to animal-human hybrids in his 2006 State of the Union comes to mind as something that was perplexing to a wide range of Americans; you can start to imagine what the YouTube questions on that particular reference may have looked like. Questions from the public could be a useful reality check on that presidential text.

Doing a YouTube component to the State of the Union potentially helps the White House out in a few ways, too. For starters, it's a way of answering complaints that Obama has lost his ability to connect with the American public over the first year of his presidency. By entertaining follow-up questions Wednesday night and through next week, it also gives the White House some hope of making the president's speech front and center for an extended period of time, and extending the focus on the substance of his text -- rather than letting all attention go to the tsunami of cable pundit commentary that will begin the very moment he wraps up his speech.

As for whether Obama makes a direct reference to YouTube in his State of the Union speech Wednesday night? Place your bets.

Of course, because we are talking about a privatized corporate service that uses proprietary software and refuses to renounce troubling privacy policies, I'm somewhat skeptical about using YouTube as a venue for political speech and civic deliberation, as my recent talk at the Video Vortex conference indicates. The opening of the talk is a montage of Obama-YouTube moments, so feel free to scrub forward on the timeline.

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