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Chats by the computer
Op-ed: Lapid's Facebook posts, like Roosevelt's radio addresses, narrow gap between government, citizens

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served between 1933 and 1945, gave a series of 30 evening radio addresses during the great economic crisis in the US. The first one of these weekly addresses, which were known as "fireside chats," focused on the banking crisis following the collapse of the stock market in 1929.

 

The New York Times wrote the next day that Roosevelt was able to take a dull and complicated topic such as banking and explain it in a language understood by all, "even bankers." Roosevelt used these addresses to the gain public's trust in his economic plan, the "New Deal," which rescued America from the crisis.

 

So what's the difference between those "fireside chats" and Finance Minister Yair Lapid's Facebook posts? Both tactics were meant to gain public support for specific policies by addressing the citizens directly. The only difference is in the technological advancement since Roosevelt's days.

 

While the Internet is the latest word in media, in many ways it also takes politics back to its original form – the personal meetings and soapbox culture. This is why media researchers refer to the Internet as the "electronic city square."

 

Lapid's new politics is actually old, and perhaps even better. Over the past few decades the meetings between politicians and citizens have taken place mainly through television. In this medium, the politicians' message is one-directional and distant, while the citizens cannot respond.

 

Al Gore, who served as vice president in the 90s, spoke of how the Internet could improve the relationship between the politicians and citizens, who will finally be able to respond to the messages conveyed by the politicians. This change, Gore said, can change the citizens' perception of democracy.

 

Lapid's use of the fictitious 'Mrs. Riki Cohen' as an example of the average Israel citizen is nothing new either. Copyrighters tend to present to their clients a "typical person" in order to humanize their target audience. For example: "A married, 40-year-old man with three children who works in high-tech, his wife is a teacher, they have a combined income of 15,000, he likes to travel, enjoys reading the daily paper" - and so on and so on.

 

So why did Lapid's Facebook posts draw such harsh criticism from politicians and journalists? The journalists are enraged by the fact that Lapid is bypassing the media and is contacting the citizens directly. They claim that by doing so he is emulating Netanyahu, who has avoided taking questions from reporters for most of his term and instead relays his messages to the public through speeches or statements to the press.

 

While Lapid may have erred when he classified 'Mrs. Riki Cohen' as the average member of the middle class, his methods should be praised. A finance minister's success is not measured solely by his policies, but also by how the public accepts these policies. Economics is not just math, it is psychology as well, as the citizens, who do not possess the tools to determine which proposal will yield the best results, can only trust that the minister will do what is best for them.

 

It was Roosevelt's policies that got America out of the economic crisis, but the fireside chats helped him gain the public's support for these policies. Lapid's success depends mainly on whether he will be able to implement a good economic plan, but these Facebook chats may increase the citizens' cooperation.

 

 

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