The upside of American politicians being techno-phobic Luddites
Hillary Clinton, the apparently big-time emailing former secretary of State, seems to have proven the exception to a political maxim: the higher you go, the more removed you get from some fundamental tasks core to the lives of real Americans.
President Bush (the first one) was famously mocked for not knowing how a price scanner worked when he visited a grocery store in 1992. It made Poppy seem out of touch during a recession and contributed to his loss that fall to Bill Clinton. John McCain was the butt of jokes back in 2008 when he admitted that he never used email and was just then "learning to get online." (He's apparently savvier now, having been busted playing online poker during a 2013 hearing on Syria.)
Texas Hold 'Em aside, being a busy, big-shot lawmaker — or secretary of State — often means leaving the minutia to others. Our leaders tend not to wade through Gmail all day long like the rest of us peons. Staffers, hopefully on their secure government servers, do that for you. They tweet on your behalf. They post updates and press releases on Facebook so you don't have to. Heck, there's even someone to hit the elevator button for you in the Capitol.
I'm somewhat surprised that Hillary Clinton even uses email at all. Her husband has sent an almost unfathomably scant two emails in his entire life. Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Meet the Press that he's never sent an email. And he's hardly alone. As The New York Times noted this week, many of Washington's high and mighty don't engage directly with the digital world. Sen. Chuck Schumer still boasts a flip phone. "Maybe once every four months, I do one email," he told the Times. "I like to communicate by talking directly to people."
And you know what? Maybe it's not such a bad thing if our elected officials are technology-avoiding Luddites.
Consider just two pinheads in Congress whose careers went down in flames because they were "savvy" (and arrogant) enough to know how the interwebs work. The appropriately named Anthony Weiner emailed a photo of his junk to a woman in Seattle. Another New York numb nut, Rep. Christopher Lee, quit abruptly in 2011 after sending a shirtless selfie of himself flexing his muscles — a photo that gave new meaning to the term pork barrel. The disgraced "Craigslist congressman" got out of Dodge so fast that a clerk had to read his resignation letter on the House floor.
But lookin' for love in all the wrong places is just part of the story. Lawmakers used to use the internet to line their pockets — logging on to personal brokerage accounts from their Congressional offices to make insider stock market trades based on legislation that was being considered in Congress. Fortunately, this outrageously unethical behavior — which might have landed you and me in prison — was outlawed in the 2011 STOCK Act (though key provisions of it have since been watered down).
And as we all know, the internet is the world’s greatest time suck. Members of Congress already spend an average of four hours a day raising money (really), and they're bombarded with messages from thousands of constituents. It's frankly impossible for them to spend much time on email dealing with every issue, complaint, and request that they receive. That's what low-paid, overworked, 20-something staffers are for.
On top of that, there's so much classified material (everything's "classified" in this town) floating around, and hackers are more sophisticated than ever, that perhaps email, in the name of national security, should be tightly restricted. Not just for lawmakers, but staffers as well.
But why blame the medium for bad behavior? Sleazy behavior like Weiner and Lee’s, security leaks, and all the rest occurred in official Washington long before the internet. Technology is just an enabler, you might argue.
Even so, perhaps having officials who are offline isn't such a bad thing. Schumer's flip phone — which first came to market when Bill Clinton was president — might not be so laughable after all. And if Hillary Clinton wants to follow in her husband’s footsteps, perhaps she should become a bit less savvy, too — it's safer that way.