Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

Trails of tears

Posted by Ron Coleman on November 17, 2008

Kaus sums it all up:

Vodkapundit makes the basic point about Obama’s Blackberry. … You want the President to rely solely on information passed up the official chain through the White House gatekeepers? That way lies the Bay of Pigs!  The chain of command is a lousy way to find out bad news. Emailing around seems like a pretty good way. Is it that much harder to secure than a phone call? Aren’t Presidents trusted with the telephone? … Paranoid P.S.: You have to wonder whether on some level this isn’t an an attempt by the White House bureaucracy to control Obama. … [via Insta]

I guess I just can’t stop being a lawyer.  It is obvious to any of the wingtip-shod that the President can’t use a BlackBerry the way he uses a phone because, duh, (1) a BlackBerry leaves a textual trail, and (2) the BlackBerry isn’t only a way to receive information, it is a way to distribute it; and the process of receiving it requires a series of textual prompts — at the very least — by the putative BB-ing President BO.

Just last week, at the Media Law Resource Center dinner, the presidential historian Michael Beschloss made it very clear that he has no idea how his job will be done in the future.  Presidents today, and those around them, do not dare write contemporaneous notes, diaries, letters… these are mere fodder for politically-motivated congressional witch hunts and special prosecutors looking for something, anything, as a hook on which to hang the other side out to dry.  The only defense to this process has been executive privilege, and even that is considered bad form now.  The Democrats in Congress have made it clear there will be purges later this coming winter and are warning the White House not to rev up the shredders — and in this environment, we think the next President should generate dozens of email trails containing hundreds of messages in the process of governing?

The virtual eye?

The virtual eye?

It’s much more than this.  We have lost some perspective, it seems.  The BlackBerry is a virtual replacement for being at the center of the process.  It is a form of portable access, both incoming and outgoing, as a replacement for being face to face with the people and data with whom interaction is required.

The BlackBerry — the “CrackBerry” — in fact, is a tyranny that we impose on ourselves in an attempt to manage our piece of a world that will move along without us if we log off for long.  You might argue that this is all the more true for a Chief Executive, but it is not merely wishful thinking to suggest that this is not the manner in which the President of the United States should operate on a personal level.  It is a managerial and executive imperative that this be so.  If there is any single person on earth who absolutely should not be executing his responsibilities via the essentially reactive, and highly improvisational, mode of feverish electronic messaging, it is the President of the United States.


14 Responses to “Trails of tears”

  1. […] UPDATE:  Related thoughts from Ron Coleman. […]

  2. edh said

    Gee, image Obama being held to the same level of scrutiny as, say, hmmm, Sarah Palin.

    It’s so unfair!

  3. Dan Collins said

    Black Barry? Are you allowed to say that?

  4. memomachine said


    What amuses me about this is the charge made by Obama against McCain of not being hip enough to know how to use email.

  5. Bryan C said

    I remain somewhat skeptical. I don’t use a Blackberry and have no interest in being tethered to my email all the time. But I do use wireless internet access, email, and IM for my job and personal life, and I’d be much less productive without them. I do understand the security argument, I’ve worked in IT for years, but I’m not sure that trying to impose an electronic quarantine of the Executive Branch is effective even as a workaround.

    Your point about the importance of personal contact is a good one. But even the President can’t be everywhere at once or do everything by himself. He has to get his information from somewhere. Do any of the President’s advisers, aides, cabinet members, etc. use email, Blackberries or other PDAs? Do they browse the web? I imagine they’re leaving trails all over the place, even if discernible only in retrospect. Why would those communications be any less vulnerable to partisan witch-hunts? And it seems like most of the security leaks come from “administration sources” who happily blab all sorts of stuff to reporters under cover of anonymity.

    I have a hard time believing that with the resources of the NSA, the CIA and the military the US Government can’t come up with a reasonable plan for electronic communications security. We’ve got to figure this stuff out eventually, or by the time the 2020 elections roll around the President will be shackled to his desk and using an Etch-A-Sketch to govern the country.

  6. I think there needs to be a much broader expectation of protecting ‘work product’, even by the President. Keep the records, but have them inaccessible (to Congress or the public) for a 25-year period.

    Security is its own issue, though. Who really knows how secure a BB transmission is? Do you want to stake the life of the country on whatever level of security that is? Personally, I’m not crazy about it.

    Already, secure facilities in USG offices ban the presence of cell phones, PDAs, WiFi, and anything else that could possibly be hacked. State Dept. will not allow the use of Lenova computers because they are manufactured in China and nobody is reverse engineering all the chips to make sure there’s nothing untoward installed. Just take a look at the process through which the USG buys any equipment to be used in a secure office, from wall clocks to TVs. You might be surprised, you might think it paranoid. You might be right. But the consequences of being wrong aren’t happy ones.

  7. There’s really no reason for someone like the President to use a Blackberry. The president generally works out of his home, travels with his staff and is generally in constant communication with the people he needs to be in constant communication with. I don’t think the President is going to be sitting in an airport bar answering the email he missed and accepting meeting requests he recieved while he was at that super-long arms summit meeting.

    I can tell you something, I do miss having my calendar at my fingertips when I don’t have my Blackberry with me (and Blackberry Pac-Man has a way of keeping you sane when you are stuck somewhere alone), but I certainly don’t miss working for a Blackberry addict. A boss with a Blackberry is a horrible thing. If you think the stories of Rumsfeld’s “snowflakes” were bad, imagine a President with a Blackberry. Micromanaged chaos.

  8. Ara Rubyan said

    There’s really no reason for someone like the President to use a Blackberry.

    I think you’re right. Obama’s body man should be able to give him whatever he would otherwise have to find for himself.

    Besides, when you’re President, you don’t spend a lot of time finding stuff; stuff finds YOU.

  9. ElamBend said

    As much as we don’t want the official filters to keep important information from the President (like a mendacious bureaucracy), we also must realize that a great danger for a chief executive is information overload. He simply can not get every piece of information, thus he needs his staff to act as his filters for him. That’s why his choice of staff is always so important.

  10. jaymaster said

    Two points:

    Along the lines of Ron’s paper trail point, our company has an extremely liberal Blackberry policy. Any salaried employee can get one, and use it for any communication whatsoever, EXCEPT for patent and HR-type communications. Those must be handled over the phone or in person.

    And even more important: A cell phone, Blackberry or most any kind of wireless device is in effect a beacon broadcasting out a signal saying “DROP SMART BOMB HERE!!!!”…….

  11. Ara Rubyan said


    Yeah. I hate when that happens.

  12. Jack said

    “But even the President can’t be everywhere at once or do everything by himself.”

    No, but if God had a Blackberry he could get a lot more done by himself, then retire most all of the angels (at least the lesser ones) and save a real load on legacy costs.

    And I’m sure the quality of his information would improve significantly.

    I’d look into it iffin I were him.
    Technology covers over a Host of sins.

  13. Evil Bob said

    Of all the reason for the new President not to be able to have a Blackberry, I would think the security implications would be enough. RIM is a Canadian country. Its servers are in Canada. Do you think it wise to have any information going to the president that has been filtered through servers in a foreign country, any foreign country? And no it doesn’t need to be a drop the bomb here message. It could be a “Sorry honey I am going to be working late tonight” message that could be enough to let someone something is going on.

  14. Jack said

    “Its servers are in Canada.”

    Yep. And how many of those servers are Chinese too?
    You go up to Montreal and they are nearly all Chinese who fled the Chi-Com take over of Hong Kong. Whereas here nearly all of our servers are either Mexican or, if you’re unlucky enough, Greek.

    Still, I can say one really good thing for Canadian servers.
    If you catch em on a slow day they can really pile on the duck.
    Which works out pretty good with the blackberry goose.

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