Monday, March 9, 2009

A very public president: Obama on what he reads, with a comment on Paul Krug . . . er, blogs

From the 35-minute interview he gave to the NY Times, here:

Q: Sir, we’re landing here, but what are you reading these days? What kind of newspapers do you read, do you read the clips, do you read actual papers, do you watch television?

A: Other than The New York Times?

Q: Other than The New York Times. Do you read Web sites? What Web sites do you look at?

A: I read most of the big national papers.

Q. Do you read them in clips or do you read them in the paper?

A. No, I read the paper. I like the feel of a newspaper. I read most of the weekly newsmagazines. I may not read them from cover to cover but I’ll thumb through them. You know, I spend most of my time these days reading a lot of briefings.

Q: And television? Do you watch? Web sites?

A: I don’t watch much television, I confess.

Q: And Web sites?

Q: No blogs?

A: I rarely read blogs.

. . .

. . . part of the reason we don’t spend a lot of time looking at blogs 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, or this or that or the other. The truth is this is a very complex set of problems and bad decisions can result in huge taxpayer expenditures and poor results.

Let me speculate that Obama's extended comment on blogs could be intended for the Times columnist and Princeton economist, Paul Krugman. Mr. Krugman is a very powerful voice on the 'left.' But his widely read column and blog could be seen as somewhat flawed analytical exercises, from the perspective Obama is coming from. In his column and his blog, Mr. Krugman seems preoccupied with arguing for bank nationalization as a theory rather than laying out the complexities. He does not provide what readers need: a discussion of what the unintended consequences of all the alternatives could be, in the conditions as they exist today.

Don't get me wrong, Mr. Krugman is a great writer, and a forceful arguer. My final sense of his columns and blog, however, is that in these two public spaces he is more movement man than scholar.

Anyway, on a last note, the President's reading habits are another example of Obama's close relationship with the American public sphere. He is a product of it, and he stays in touch with it through to today.

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