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Obama's Updated Fireside Chats, Sports Analogies, and Change in Washington

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I'm just as awe-struck as the next American by Barack Obama's unprecedented campaign and election, but in case you've been spelunking for the past year and haven't noticed, the country is in a bit of a "situation" right now. And like many Americans, I'm still a bit worried about the future.

When I get worried or experience a strong emotion, like the media, I tend to fall back on clichés -- specifically sports metaphors -- to express myself. To accompany my hand wringing, I've taken to muttering platitudes on the subject of our country's economic "slump," particularly in regard to our "bush-league" market regulation.

And while I truly believe that Obama's height, intellect, and subtlety have the potential to earn him a Lincolnesque legacy, I also know he's young, inexperienced, and untested. To be successful in the coming unpleasantness, he must show the same wisdom-in-adversity that made Honest Abe such a reverential figure.

Which brings me to the most germane sports analogy I can think of: when a team is having a tough year, or is young, inexperienced, and hasn't figured out how to win, people like to say the team is enduring a "building year." Now, considering that an Obama Administration is going to inherit a costly war, a LOL-sized national debt, a muddled energy policy, the Patriot Act, one lonely investment bank, a giant recession, paltry funding for the arts and science and technology, and an anemic Partridge in a diseased Pear Tree, one might say that President Elect Obama is entitled to a building year. Maybe two.

But unfortunately for Bob the Builder and Joe the Plumber, we don't have time for a building year -- or a presidential bildungsroman. From the first whistle, Obama needs to hit the ground running and to begin immediately implementing the change he's been proposing for the last two years. And this has to happen quickly, before America is forced to move back in with its parents.

As this is the case, you can see why I'm enamored with the earnestness of Obama's "Transition Team." For starters, the name itself sounds like football and change. Second, I've been hearing some aggressive announcements from that very team that appear to be evidence of a coming transformation of Washington - that appear to be demonstrate the very kind of prescience and foresight that I think must define an Obama Presidency.

Reports surfaced this weekend saying that Obama plans to bring the President's weekly "fireside chat" into the new century by not just offering the chats on the radio, but on YouTube as well. Okay... but what does that mean?

Every week, Obama plans to address the public in a four-minute-long video that will be posted on his transition site, Change.gov. Expected to accompany these videos are online Q&As and video interviews with White House staff. And in the coming weeks, members of the transition team, policy experts, and his selections for the Cabinet will record videos that will in turn be uploaded to the site. The administration also expects to launch a White House YouTube channel once it takes office. Of course, the Obama Administration may want to create their own branded video-sharing service that is neutral -- instead of giving YouTube a monopoly on this content.

I imagine that this news will make a lot of people in younger generations thoroughly "amped". Imagine if the administration uses sites like TubeMogul (as ReadWrite Web suggests) to cross-post videos across the Internet, begins to use Hulu and YouTube more consistently, creates live broadcasts, podcasts, and RSS Feeds. Essentially, this would allow Obama to surpass the technological efforts of the Bush Administration in a matter of months.

But not only would the simple fact that our President shows an interest in and knowledge of something that younger Americans spend a lot of their time employing (even if they don't think about it that way), what's even better is that this holds great potential for participatory democracy and representative government. People will be encouraged to actually watch Obama's weekly State of the Unions, especially given the opportunity to post video responses to what they see and hear.

Obviously, it seems that a President who is willing to connect to the people and keep them informed could be a real "game-changer." Sure, posting videos to YouTube is easy and yes, for those paying attention, Obama's account on Twitter has been silent since the election. But even if this effort at transparency is superficial, it's a step in the right direction.

Ellen Miller, who works for a D.C. based nonprofit that advocates for government transparency said it best: "We're living, after all, in the Internet era. This is an individualized version of the 'fireside chats.' It's not delivered between 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. but whenever anyone wants to see it. I don't know if it necessarily creates transparency -- it's still a controlled, one-way message. But it creates the aura of a much more accessible presidency."

In addition, the announcement that Obama will create the first Chief Technology Officer in United States history goes a long way towards convincing Silicon Valley and the giants of the technology industry that it is serious about progressive tech policy. When the transition team made this announcement, the blogosphere practically shook with geeky enthusiasm. And considering the hot new topic in Silicon Valley is green investing, the Obama Administration stands to win from any effort to make the tech industry feel that it has a stake in the administration's decisions.

While Obama has said that he will be cautious and calculating in pursuing prescriptive measures for the economic downturn, I think that there is a good chance that we will see immediate strides in tech policy upon the Obama Administration taking office. By encouraging an intersection of government and technology and by increasing funding in science, technology, and the creative industries, the U.S. might be able to re-claim what was once a venerable tradition of innovation and ingenuity. With an Obama Administration focused on this kind of forward progress, we might just be able to push our way out of a slump and into the playoffs. And this thought, at least for now, is enough to get me to loosen my white-knuckled grip on my Louisville Slugger.

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