It was a good idea 80 years ago and, in its updated form using the Internet, remains a good idea today. At least, direct communication with voters is a good idea if you're a politician. If you're a voter, the picture is a little more clouded.
From board members to governors, elected officials have turned to social media -- Internet outlets like Facebook and Twitter -- to communicate directly with voters and -- equally important to them -- bypass the filter of the news media. All in all, it's not a bad thing, as long as the public keeps in mind a fundamental truth: Like most of the rest of us, elected officials are driven in good part by self-interest. Improperly directed, that self-interest would trump the interests of the people they are sworn to serve.
It's nothing new. Franklin Roosevelt created a bond between himself and his supporters through his fireside chats, which were broadcast on the radio. Since Ronald Reagan's presidency, chief executives have offered weekly radio messages.
It is inevitable that politicians would want to employ tools that allow them to reach millions of voters at once. (Note to the reckless: The ability to reach millions of voters can be very risky. Just ask former Reps. Chris Lee, R-Clarence, and Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.)
There is nothing wrong with communicating directly with voters, of course, but voters who read the online postings of their public officials need to know that they will be hearing only part of the story. A legislator may boast of having voted to cut taxes, for example, while neglecting to note that the cuts do not occur until some long-off date. It's a crucial distinction. That's why the news media remain critical to a full understanding of what is happening in the halls of government.
Social media are a remarkable and potent new addition to the world of communications but, just like all the others, it pays to know how to interpret them. Even FDR wanted to keep secrets.