Miami Chatting on late-night shows. Beaming bilingual messages via satellite. Even lingering in your inbox. If the new president is anything, he’s this: digital and ubiquitous.
In a sign of the Internet age, President Barack Obama has employed a range of social networking and online devices from Facebook to the White House Web site to reach out to constituents — the latest and most direct example being an unprecedented online town hall Thursday and an address delivered via satellite through the Spanish-language Univision network.
Political observers say the rise of the here-there-everywhere president has tapped into a timely channel that connects with everyday people. More visible than his predecessor, President George W. Bush, Obama comes across as a more accessible and humanized head of state, they add.
Others sniff that the commander in chief bears an unsettling resemblance to a celebrity — something that threatens to taint the gravitas of the White House.
One social media expert said Obama — known as much for the BlackBerry on his hip as his quick smile — was doing his part to stay timely. The White House Web site, of course, features a blog.
“It makes sense — he’s keeping with the times, following suit, or even leading the way,” said Alex de Carvalho, an adjunct professor at University of Miami’s School of Communications.
On Thursday, Obama took an even more immediate engagement with his constituents in what the White House referred to as the first Internet video news conference by an American president. The “experiment” was called “Open for Questions.”
Boasting of almost 100,000 participants, the session allowed Obama to answer questions ranging from job creation to health care reform and saving the auto industry.
In the evening, Obama gave a bilingual address on Univision’s Premio Lo Nuestro music awards. The show was broadcast live from the BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Fla. — an obvious nod to the Hispanic voters who supported him.
“Buenas noches,” Obama said in a pre-recorded message. “I want to thank the millions of you who voted for tonight’s winners, and I also want to thank all of you who voted in that other election back in November — even if it wasn’t for me.”
One critic said she thought Obama was making use of his public-speaking skills, but that his prime-time appearances ran the risk of overkill.
“At some point you’d think he’s the Holy Spirit — everywhere, all the time,” said Republican consultant Ana Navarro. “At any moment, he’s going to show up dancing the mambo on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’”
One political observer said he believes the advantages to this new strategy outweigh the risks.
“He can go directly to the people to make his points and he doesn’t have to go through the analysis and all the things that go along with trying to reach people from Washington, D.C.,” said Herbert Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University and a former member of the Ohio Ethics Commission.