Well, it's over. And it's just starting. Historic election! First black president! Lots of new, energized voters. A world awash in good feelings. OK, fine, but what have you done for me today?
Short attention spans are an occupational hazard in the news business, but I think the disease is catching. Now anyone can be in the news business, as we saw over the long, long campaign season. Political junkies and the merely curious onlooker can access the sort of information online that only the most sophisticated political pros and journalists were getting just a few years ago. Polling data, video clips, speech transcripts, news analysis from every corner of the dial: Everyone is now an expert. And everyone is eager for that next headline. Which is too bad, because we're losing some of the necessary rhythms of the political cycle. Call me old school, but I think it's good for the country to take a deep breath and a few weeks away from the political furnace now and then. But that's not going to happen.
Barack Obama will be the first American president burdened by this national hyperactivity disorder. As we said on the cover: He faces two wars, a collapsing economy, an anxious nation—and he isn't even president yet (Inauguration Day is January 20). He will get little or no honeymoon during which voters are content to sit back and see what unfolds. The demand for action, whether real or perceived, will be overwhelming. And for all the kindness that parts of the media showed Obama during the campaign, don't think they won't turn on him if he stumbles. The beast must be fed.
In recent years, only Ronald Reagan came into office facing similar immediate challenges—the Iranian hostage crisis, a belligerent Soviet Union and a sclerotic economy. Of course, with CNN only a months-old experiment and the Internet a distant dream, the scrutiny was far more forgiving. Reagan took his time assembling a capable team and making quiet plans to launch a strong presidency. And the hostages were released the day of his inauguration. It's hard to imagine Obama will have such a luxury of time, even though he will need it.
I'm interested in your thoughts on the prospects for President Obama and the role the media should play. Are we damaging our democracy with information overload? Is there a way to turn down the volume? Or are we just a better-informed nation that has to endure some of the excesses? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment below.