Fireside Chats to Twitter

Allia Calkins

In 1933 the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression and nearly 25 percent of Americans were unemployed. Franklin Delano Roosevelt  took office in early March and immediately began to put his recovery plan into effect. He presented Congress with legislation that would jumpstart the economy and help Americans re-enter the work force, all as part of his New Deal. One of the most important things that Roosevelt did at the beginning of his presidency was to broadcast a radio program explaining the New Deal to Americans. He was the first president to utilize the new radio technology in this way, and over the course of 30 broadcasts, he connected the White House to Americans in their living rooms [1]. Today, the United States is coming out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and another President is using new technology to connect to the American people; this time, however, he is finding his way right into their pockets.

President Obama first showed the nation the power of Twitter during the 2008 election. At this point in the social website’s history, no one was really sure what it would be used for, and it struggled to find its footing. Obama revolutionized his campaign by using Twitter to connect to his grassroots followers, middle and lower class people who, though they did not have thousands of dollars to contribute to his campaign, did have the means to make small donations over the Internet. Nearly a quarter of Obama’s fundraising total was made up of small donations under $200. Compared to rival John McCain’s 7 percent, this is astronomical [2].

Obama’s Twitter presence carried on into the 2012 election. In September of 2012, Obama had 19.2 million Twitter followers, while Mitt Romney had barely over a million [3]. While the outcome of the election might have been predicted by the difference in the candidates’ followers , it more likely showed the difference in their likability and size of their respectable grassroots movements.

Obama’s Twitter use has not died down since winning reelection. Rather, he is using Twitter in a whole new way: to communicate with the American people, much like FDR did with his fireside chats. With fiscal-cliff negotiations going nowhere, Obama has reached out to the American people to campaign for his plan. He is using the hashtag #my2k to ask his followers to tweet what $2,000 in their pocket means. This $2,000 is the amount that could be taken away in the form of taxes if the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire. Additionally, he hosted a Q&A session over Twitter on December 3. Using the White House Twitter account, Obama started the session by Tweeting, “Hey guys – this is barack. ready [sic] to answer your questions on fiscal cliff & #my2k. Let’s get started. –bo” For the next couple of hours, Obama retweeted and answered the questions of average Americans ranging from, “Why not place more emphasis on reducing government spending, than on raising revenues?” to which Chicago sports team had the best chance of winning a championship game. Obama playfully responded to this Tweet by saying, “da bears still gotta shot, despite sad loss this weekend! plus rose will return for playoffs!!!” Through tweets like these, Obama is able to connect to the American people, and the American people can, in return, feel like their opinions are being heard.

While times have certainly changed and Obama’s voice is not being broadcast over a vintage radio, there is an echo of FDR’s fireside chats in Obama’s Twitter stream. More Americans than ever before are now connected to the inner workings of the White House and the President’s decisions, and because of this they are more likely in the future to take part in the political process.





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