Back in action in the new year. Let me throw out some unusually short or brief comments just to stretch my blogging muscles.
1) Roland Burris. I suppose the first thing with Burris that bugs me is: who would take an appointment under those circumstances? Would Illinois as a state suffer that badly if it didn’t have a second senator until after the governor is impeached? I’m sure that a very good, ethical, upstanding guy could nevertheless talk himself into drinking from that tainted cup on the grounds that if he doesn’t do it, the governor is just going to keep on going until he finds someone who will. But there’s a kind of vaguely unwholesome self-appraisal involved in that logic: to think that way, you really have to believe that you’ve got to be better than whomever the hypothetical person is who will accept later on. It might be better to just wait and hope that by the time Blagojevich has to start robocalling households in the greater Chicago area looking for a Senator, he’ll either give up or be impeached.
2) One other thing about Burris: at least some African-American politicians in Illinois pretty much responded in just the way that Blagojevich must have hoped that they would, by insisting that continuing to have misgivings about the process by which Burris was appointed was tantamount to wanting to keep the Senate without any black representation. It’s hard to be a powerful political bloc if you’re that easy to manipulate or that predictable in your positions.
3) I’m sure many of you are still getting a barrage of emails from the Obama campaign. I’m ok with that, up to a point. The volume of the communications, this long after the election, is starting to have the vague stench of spam. However, I’m way more concerned with one email that landed in my inbox today. It’s purporting to be a follow-up by David Plouffe to a message with the subject line Midnight Deadline that purportedly comes from Obama himself. The thing that makes this email notable in my view is its subject heading, which is Re: Midnight deadline. Why does that draw my eye (and ire)? Because it’s a slightly sleazy social hack designed to make you open up the email. Most of us have developed heuristics for coping with full inboxes, in which we spot quasi-spam or things we can ignore and delete them unread, quickly. A message with Re: in the header implies an ongoing communication, as if someone is responding to something we sent to them. The eye lingers on that heading, and maybe we open it just in case. This is a social hack that sophisticated spammers figured out a while back. Competence in digital communications, which the Obama people have certainly demonstrated, is sometimes thinly separated from a cynical misuse of digital tools. If the staff responsible for these communications knows anything about online culture, they ought to know that if you provoke people too often with that kind of misuse, the firestorm of negative reaction can be very hard to dampen.
4) I think the selection of Panetta as CIA head is a pretty good one. Quite aside from the complicity of the agency in the worst aspects of security policy in the last eight years, it’s an agency that has long had a pressing need to be restructured and rethought, as well as managed competently on a purely financial basis. The CIA one of the most legendarily insular and self-protecting bureaucratic fiefdoms in Washington, often to the detriment of its own mission, not to mention its responsibilities to the government and the nation.
5) My guess is that the next coming story in the development of the recession is going to be a wave of small business closings and bankruptcies, which will probably have more visibility in the everyday life of many Americans, in a more evenly distributed way, than any of what has happened so far.