"Oops." We haven't even reached the peak of the 2012 election campaign and already two leading presidential candidates – Rick Perry and Herman Cain – have experienced sensational lapses on policy issues that have left supporters embarrassed and opponents positively giddy. Thanks to the 24/7 news cycle of the Internet and public fervor for the latest viral video clip, it’s possible to distribute the most embarrassing two minutes of your political life nearly instantaneously to the entire world. Which raises an interesting question: Has the ability of sites like Google to deliver instantaneous knowledge about any topic unfairly raised the expectations of our presidential candidates?
As Herman Cain struggles for excuses – along the lines of “I only got four hours of sleep” and "Do you really expect me to know everything about foreign policy?" – the rest of us plod through the day with basic Google searches for the most mundane details – “What's the best way to commute to work today?” “What's the weather like today?” "Which NFL football game is on tonight?" Think about it - at any given point in the day, how much do we really know for a fact without first checking with the Internet? Yet, we all play Monday morning quarterback with our politicians, subjecting their every move to the same level of detail that we reserve for professional athletes.
Nicholas Carr, writing in the pages of The Atlantic, famously described the “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” problem. As Carr explained, the Web is literally re-wiring our brains, changing the way we think and reducing our capacity for absorbing anything but the most fleeting of facts (or tweets). His book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, went even further, bringing in the latest findings from neuroscience and psychology to advance his argument about the way our brains are programmed to work.
How many times have you asked a colleague for an answer to a question, only to receive the lazy reply, “Why don’t you just Google it?” In a 24/7, interconnected world, where it’s impossible for anyone – even the social media cognoscenti - to keep up with a torrent of tweets, emails, blogs and Facebook status updates, is it really reasonable – or rational – anymore to expect that any politician will have a grasp on every issue?
So why do we still have these unnatural expectations of the Presidency? Even before the lapses of Perry and Cain, opponents were attacking President Obama for his use of a Teleprompter during speeches, hunting for potential gaps in his knowledge base. A presidential candidate, if he’s truly on top of his game, should apparently also have speeches completely memorized?
Maybe in a totalitarian society such as North Korea - where the citizens still refer to their obviously addled leader with obsequious titles such as “Great Man, Who Descended From Heaven” – there is an expectation of all-knowingness. But in a democracy, where the increasing globalization of the world has broadened not only the scope of what we must know on a daily basis, but also how quickly we must know it, it seems that we as a society have a choice to make - whether we want candidates who are "presidential" in bearing and a bit shaky on certain topics, or we get super-intellectual, media-unfriendly candidates that wouldn't last 30 seconds on CNN. Google is not making our candidates stupid. It is the ability to have facts and information at our fingertips wherever we go in the world that is unfairly raising our expectations of what our presidential candidates should know.
photo: Texas Governor Rick Perry / Shutterstock