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Net connections

An opinion piece by Thomas Friedman from today's New York Times, after being online for two days, is now at the top of the Times' list of most emailed articles.

Despite its title, "Ask Not What ... ", it's ostensibly a piece about what Bush should do. The American people, Friedman says, are listening to him. We will do what he asks. Alas, Friedman laments, Bush is still operating on the party politics of Sept. 10, and the post-Sept. 11 world is the worse for it.

The President could ask us to conserve energy, and, Friedman says, we would. He could commit to alternatives to oil, better fund the fight against world poverty, and even provide solar-powered light bulbs (with Stars 'n Stripes decals) to African villages so children could study at night. "There is a critical strategic point here," he writes: "If we are going to be stomping around the world wiping out terrorist cells from Kabul to Manila, we'd better make sure that we are the best country, and the best global citizens, we can be. Otherwise, we are going to lose the rest of the world."

Americans are ready to make the world a better place, Friedman thinks. He concludes his piece by asking, "Mr. President, where do we enlist?"

It's a good piece. It left me wondering, though, what it's good for. The point is that it's not just rhetoric; if true, this is something to act on. But what's the next step? And, if there's no next step, what's the point?

I mean, does the Administration care about a pundit's wordsmithing in the back of a paper (even if it is the most widely read paper, possibly, in the Western world)? Perhaps the White House tracks that key demographic, people who read the Times' Week in Review every Sunday, and is even now scrambling to do us proud.

At least, that's what I was thinking, reading the paper over lunch. And I was thinking, one of the true strengths of this Internet thing is that, by making it so easy to share information, anything, no matter where it is published, has the potential to reach beyond its original audience. If something is worth being shared, it can be.

So it was good to see it at the top of the most-emailed list; I hadn't thought of that possibility until I logged on.

I wonder, though, who the piece's true audience is. I don't think it's Bush (although Friedman is right, it's too bad that G.W. is missing the picture). In that sense, the closing address to our Mr. President is a piece of rhetoric. The question is, will this idea, Do more for your country, reach the people who read this opinion? That would be cool.

It also makes me wonder, when NYTimes.com inevitably lowers the gate and charges to pass, what will become of this ease of communication, the one thing that, I think, distinguishes Friedman's call to action from toothless rhetoric?

December 9, 2001 4:42 PM

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Copyright ©2001-2003 Matt Pfeffer

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