Now that the Great Mentioner has placed me among the candidates to become the next White House press secretary, I have learned things about myself that I never knew.
Helpful correspondents have told me where to go, what to use to fill various orifices, which pack animal I most closely resemble and my next-world destination.
Sages from afar have ascertained that I'm a Brahmin, a trilateralist, a BushBot, a puppet, a force of evil in the modern world, a White House mouthpiece-toady-stenographer merely seeking a change of station (and major cut in pay) and a toothy, well-coifed mediocrity.
One marvels at the vivacity of strangers' opinions, and the dazzling variety of their venom. Where do such passions come from? Why do people feel not merely free, but compelled to express themselves so?
This didn't use to happen to people merely mentioned for government positions. Once upon a time, speculation about staff positions was unthinkable at best, such musing would elicit a yawn.
But that was then, when news moved at a pace that now seems glacial and when the Internet didn't spawn sparring clans who not only share, but magnify and intensify, their views.
The media revolution has scrambled the world. We get everything instantly news, images, analysis, reaction ... everything but actual perspective. Nobody seems willing to wait for such a thing.
The political community has become so adroit in adapting to the new reality that partisans routinely issue "prebuttals" to opposition speeches they haven't heard and position papers they haven't seen. The press duly takes note of the prophetic complaints, and then solicits reactions from other people who haven't yet heard the speeches or read the papers.
Our zest for action goes deeper. The Wild West nature of the Internet has made it possible for anyone to gain notoriety in the new informational order. Otherwise anonymous characters now can rise up and change the world. The most popular left-wing weblog, The Daily Kos, boasts tens of thousands of visitors per day. The more conservative Powerlineblog does the same.
Independent players, such as Andrew Sullivan and Michelle Malkin, command impressive audiences and all have played a role in mobilizing opinion about everything from Dan Rather's reporting on the president's National Guard duty to the conduct of the war in Iraq.
Unfortunately, the developers of the Age of Instancy have neglected to create a pause button. As a result, people now publish musings that in previous generations they merely would have tucked into a desk drawer, or left un-mailed in a sealed envelope.
The recent dust-up over Donald Rumsfeld's handling of the war drew out not only a half-dozen disgruntled generals, but equally unhappy supporters of the defense secretary. Soon, the debate shifted from postwar troop levels to overheated insults about the bravery, veracity or character of the accusers and the accused. Old Comrades became enemies.
Our instant-reaction/instant gratification culture has spawned an impressive industry in insults and incitement. Old-timers cluck in disapproval at the unseemliness of it all, but the profusion of profanity is less a sign of moral decay than fresh growth of a new medium. When new industries arise, they do so in the fashion of small volcanic islands: They emerge in a cloud of smoke and ash heated, unstable and unformed but over time, cool a bit and become something more solid and substantial.
We're already getting weary of the insult industry and the accompanying insinuation that one must view people with contrary views not only as political opponents, but as invading microbes, suitable for swift and complete destruction. Free people cannot live on rage alone. It makes them crazy and boring all at once.
And so, the marketplace of ideas already is taking the Internet into a kinder, gentler era. The hate mail will still arrive in droves, of course, and unimaginative souls will merely cut-and-paste what others have written. But with any luck, the taunts will become less numerous, more witty and creative, and more to the point.
A marketplace of ideas will reward the person who comes up with a good idea and bundles it up attractively and not the poor sap who can't get past the adolescent craving to write about orifices.