Friday, September 30, 2011

Instant Candidates: Not the Best Way to Choose Our Leaders

By Richard A. Lee

A year ago, it was quite common to find New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned together in news reports since Zuckerberg had just donated $100 million to the state’s largest school system.

One year later, the two men once again were in the news at the same time – Christie because of yet another increase in speculation that he may run for national office; Zuckerberg because of changes to Facebook that irked many of the social network’s 800 million active users.

This year’s news stories are about the two distinct topics, but there is a connection, albeit an indirect one.

Among the Facebook changes are features that provide for faster sharing of information. This is a sign of the times in which we live. We want our news and information instantly, whether it’s the White House press corps reporting on the president or a text message with word that your sister has just had a healthy baby boy.

It is this environment – one in which information arrives quickly and unfiltered – that has helped spur interest in a Christie for President candidacy.

Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable for a man with his resume to be seriously considered as a candidate for national office. After all, he has been a governor for less than two years.

But look at the man in the Oval Office today. Barack Obama was in his first term as a U.S. Senator when he was elected president. And when the GOP chose Sarah Palin as the party’s 2008 vice presidential candidate, she had served less than two years as governor of Alaska.

Obama’s use of the Internet and social networks were critical to his success in quickly becoming a national figure, winning the Democratic Party’s nomination and emerging victorious in the presidential election. Palin, despite her slot on a losing ticket in 2008, also has used the Internet and social networks effectively, building a strong and faithful core of supporters.

Chris Christie’s national popularity provides another example of this pattern. He has become a YouTube star, drawing hundreds of thousands of hits for his lively video exchanges with teachers, journalists and public employees. But I can’t help but wonder how many of those hopping on the Christie bandwagon know him primarily from YouTube and have spent little time actually learning the details and results of his policies.

Regardless of whether one is a supporter or an opponent of Chris Christie or any other potential candidate for president, we should be basing our opinion on hard facts – not on two-minute video clips.

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Richard A. Lee spent more than 30 years as a journalist and government communications professional in New Jersey. He now is an assistant professor in the Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University near Olean, N.Y. Read more of Rich's columns at richleeonline and follow him at