- Michael Bloomberg thumbs FAA ban, plots course to Israel
- California bans full-contact football practices in off-season
- Thune: Downed fighter jets show more evidence of separatist capabilities
- Obama tells DNC fundraising crowd: ‘I’m not overly partisan’
- Chambliss: Downed jet ultimately goes back to Putin
- Perdue strategy: Run against Reid, Obama, Pelosi
- White House: More changes to contraception mandate coming
- ‘Operation Normandy’ set to send 3,500 volunteers to border to ‘stop an invasion’
- Netanyahu’s spokesman: Safe to fly to Israel
- Oregon vandals smear cars with doughnuts, pastries, chocolate bars
Obama online petition site: Direct democracy or empty gesture?
Question of the Day
We, the People have spoken. We have shouted from the rooftops, typed from our desktops, clicked from our laptops. We have visited the official White House petition website — nearly 3 million of us, to be precise — and exercised our First Amendment right to let our duly (and newly) re-elected President Barack Obama know exactly what we would like the federal government to accomplish, including and in no particular order:
1. Deport television talk host and British national Piers Morgan;
2. Formally acknowledge that space aliens are real, and have walked — probed? — among us;
3. Create a reality television series starring Vice President Joe Biden;
4. Mint a trillion-dollar coin featuring the likeness of Henry Winkler, the actor best known for portraying the The Fonz on “Happy Days”;
5. Begin construction of a real-life Death Star by 2016.
If all of the above sounds remarkably weird — well, except the Mr. Biden show, which sounds long-overdue — that’s because we’re a little weird ourselves. At least when it comes to our various, put-it-in-writing desires for federal action.
Since September of 2011, the Obama administration has invited the public to petition the government at a “We the People” area of the official White House website, promising that when a petition receives enough support — currently 25,000 electronic signatures within a 30-day window — Mr. Obama’s staff will review the request, send it to the appropriate policy experts and issue an official response.
Many of the resulting petitions have been predictable offshoots of longtime national-level policy debates, such as abolishing the Transportation Security Administration, establishing a flat tax and legalizing marijuana.
Others, however, are more eclectic.
Want to let the city of El Paso secede from Texas and become part of New Mexico? There’s a petition for that. Want to give everyone in the country the opportunity to punch anti-tax activist Grover Norquist between the legs, once and only once? There’s a petition for that, too.
Macon Phillips, the White House director of digital strategy, has said that requests posted on the site have had a real and direct impact on administration policymaking, most notably in the case of two petitions concerning online piracy laws.
By contrast, information technology and democracy scholar J.H. Snider said that the site’s civic usefulness has yet to be proven.
“The issues that the administration has really touted and said, ‘We have passed legislation from this’ were all things like student loans and the Newtown shootings, things that were already on the public agenda with Congress introducing bills,” said Mr. Snider, president of the nonprofit public policy institute iSolon.org and a fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. “So the question is, did the petition website really make a difference? Or is it just being used to suggest that the administration is open to public participation and that they respond to it because that’s an appealing message?”
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
- Taking to Twitter: Everybody's Oscar night in 140 characters
- Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin cry foul at WWE Tea Party stereotypes
- Oscar Pistorius and the 'roid rage' defense: It's no Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card
- Spatial media: Astronaut Chris Hadfield live chats from 220 miles above earth
- Hero-worship for a cold-blooded killer: The cult of Christopher Dorner
TWT Video Picks
Retailer pays a price for getting too close to Obama
- CARSON: Costco and the perils of mixing politics and business
- Two Ukrainian fighter jets shot down
- House task force to recommend National Guard on border, faster deportations
- David Perdue defeats Jack Kingston in Georgia Republican Senate primary runoff
- HURT: The cost of 'free' water in Detroit
- Obama orders Pentagon advisers to Ukraine
- Beretta moving to Tennessee over Maryland gun laws
- DEACE: How to go from civil rights icon to bigot in one quote
- D.C. appeals panel deals big blow to Obamacare subsidies
- IRS seeks help destroying another 3,200 computer hard drives
Obama's biggest White House 'fails'
Celebrities turned politicians
Athletes turned actors
20 gadgets that changed the world
Fighting in Iraq