Lindsey Graham, the Thinking Man’s Luddite

The whole thing is like the experience we’ve probably all had of being in a group discussion of someone’s embarrassing lapse of judgment, and someone in the group admits doing something vastly more embarrassing. In examining Hillary Clinton’s email practices from his regular perch at Meet the Press on Sunday, the senior Senator from South Cackalacky looked more senior than ever: “You can have every email I’ve ever sent. I’ve never sent one.”

No, this wasn’t Strom Thurmond returned from the grave. It was 59-year-old Lindsey Graham, who is supposed to be a hyper-sophisticated authority on global events, and is well on his way to a campaign for the presidency of a country where most people have been using email for a great deal of time.

As more and more of those people read incredulously of Graham’s lack of participation in one of the most common phenomena of contemporary American life, he’s launched a rather ingenious spin campaign, as witnessed in New Hampshire by Dave Weigel:

It was not the news that South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham went on TV to make. Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, who like the rest of Washington was exploring every angle of the Hillary Clinton e-mail kerfuffle, asked Graham if he had a private e-mail address.

“I don’t e-mail,” said Graham. “No, you can have every e-mail I’ve ever sent. I’ve never sent one.”

That went viral, funny enough, on the weekend of Graham’s first trip to New Hampshire as a potential presidential candidate. After a marathon town-hall meeting in Concord’s Snow Shoe Lodge, the Republican held a gaggle with reporters, and Fox News lobbed a question about the e-mail. Graham repeated himself: He did not use e-mail. He preferred to talk on the phone.

“The next president of the United States needs to be good with people, not just technology,” he said….

As he headed to his car, I asked Graham to explain his communication methods, a subject that truly baffled a press corps that walks around with smartphones welded to hands.

“What I do, basically, is that I’ve got iPads, and I play around,” Graham explained. “But I don’t e-mail. I’ve tried not to have a system where I can just say the first dumb thing that comes to my mind. I’ve always been concerned. I can get texts, and I call you back, if I want. I get a text, and I respond not by sending you a text, but calling you if I think what you asked is worthy enough for me calling you. I’m not being arrogant, but I’m trying to jealously guard myself in terms of being able to think through problems and not engage in chat all day. I’ve had a chance to kind of carve out some time for myself not responding to every 15-second crisis.”

Thus Graham efficiently let Weigel know that he knows what those iPad thingies are, and also text messages, but he has chosen to be reflective and not get into the rat race of responding to this and reacting to that.

He’s sort of the thinking man’s luddite, you see.

Yeah, Lindsey’s always struck me as unemotional and reflective, which is why he never runs off half-cocked and overreacts to terrorist or foreign government activity, right?

Truth is, a United States Senator, a Sun King in his own realm, can indeed download all the messy details of communicating with people outside his tiny circle of intimates to staff in a way that hardly anyone else in this country can any more. It’s not something you’d normally brag about, though.

I once worked for a Senator who was similarly disinclined to use modern information technology, including the PC that sat on his desk unused, and it frustrated me to the extent that I finally said: “If you’re going to run around making speeches about the knowledge-and-information-based global economy, you’re probably going to have to learn to type.” But that was a quarter century ago. Lindsey Graham really needs to keep up.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.