by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
President Obama recently joined Twitter, and his feed is already providing some insights into the president that might have been unavailable to the public in his first six years in office. His first tweet read: “Hello, Twitter! It’s Barack. Really! Six years in, they’re finally giving me my own account.” Not that interesting to be sure (like so much of Twitter), but subsequent tweets have weighed in on subjects as diverse as gay marriage and peas in guacamole. (FYI, he’s for the former, opposed to the latter.)
Soft stuff so far, but the account bears watching, as it could prove useful for future presidential biographers. At a minimum, the account is a window into a president’s likes and dislikes. President Obama started following the Blackhawks, White Sox, and the Bulls, but not the Cubs – which was of course noted by Cubs fans. He also followed George H. W. Bush, showing more bipartisanship than he is usually credited with.
The account may also be able to tell us what Obama is thinking about at a specific time, in much the same way that diaries have done in the past. Even though we must recognize that the feeds will of course be filtered by political considerations, even here they can give a sense of what a president is willing to reveal.
A personal presidential Twitter feed brings something that other forms of White House social media, written by people other than the president, do not. If this Twitter feed is indeed written by the president – as this one appears to be – it is potentially a way of getting less filtered presidential thoughts in a way that other media do not provide. As I discovered when writing my book on the presidency and pop culture, what a president is reading or watching can influence his language or approach to pressing issues of the day. In other words, what might initially seem as mere entertainment can have historical value as a fuller perspective of the administration takes shapes.
The presidential Twitter feed could potentially provide significant detail and insight into what is influencing the president – or whether an issue is even on the president’s mind. Obviously, a lot depends on how the president uses the account, but if George W. Bush had tweeted all of the books he was reading in his book-reading contest with Karl Rove, we wouldn’t have had to wait until Rove’s December 2008 Wall Street Journal column to get a fuller sense of the seriousness – and the sheer number of books – Bush was reading as president during a time of significant challenges.