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Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm dreading the first Twitter election

When Abraham Lincoln was running for the American presidency in 1858 he had a series of debates with his Democratic opponent. He would speak for an hour, the opponent would respond for ninety minutes and then Lincoln would have another half an hour. Obviously the electors of those days hadn't had their attention-spans killed by television but there was more to it than that. The time they took to explore the issues facing the Union at the time was a token of the seriousness with which they took the issue's complexities. This may have been handed down to generations of schoolchildren as "all about the slaves" but that wasn't how the debate was framed at the time.

I've been thinking about this as the opening shots are fired in what is clearly going to be the first Twitter election, where any issue that can't be boiled down to 140 characters won't play. 140 characters is enough room for a slogan or a meretricious appeal; it's not enough to say anything more useful. In that sense Stalin would have loved it. Lincoln not so much.