Obama online petition site: Direct democracy or empty gesture?

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Similarly, the Obama administration’s site has stoked controversy.

Following Mr. Obama’s reelection, more than 60 petitions to secede from the United States covering all 50 states reportedly gathered nearly 700,000 signatures, with a Texas petition tallying almost 95,000 supporters. In turn, those prompted a petition demanding that everyone who signed a secession petition be deported.

After Mr. Morgan blasted pro-gun guests on his CNN talk show following the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, more than 100,000 people signed a petition asking that he be deported for attacking the Second Amendment — leading to both an explosive on-air confrontation between Mr. Morgan and petition originator and talk radio host Alex Jones and an official White House response.

“Let’s not let arguments over the Constitution’s Second Amendment violate the spirit of its First,” wrote White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on the website. “President Obama believes that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. However, the Constitution not only guarantees an individual right to bear arms, but also enshrines the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.”

A petition to designate the Roman Catholic Church as a hate group for its opposition to gay rights — filed on Christmas Day in response to Pope Benedict XVI’s year-end Vatican address dubbing gay marriage a threat to Western civilization — has drawn over 2,500 signatures, as well as ire (and fund-raising solicitations) from conservative activists and organizations.

Other petitions are more light-hearted.

One asks to have Mr. Obama attend a party thrown by the humor website Fark.com — or, if the president’s schedule doesn’t permit, to at least have a beer with site owner Drew Curtis. Another calls to nationalize the Twinkie industry.

A third demands a new legal system of motorcycle-riding judges who serve as “police, judge, jury and executioner all in one” — in essence, scrapping more than 2,000 years of Western legal tradition and philosophy for jurisprudence ripped from a bad Sylvester Stallone movie.

(Corrected paragraph:) While frivolous petitions could potentially clog the petition system and render it something of a joke, Mr. Snider said silly requests are less a problem than the site requiring the 25,000-signature government response threshold to be met within 30 days.

“No other petition site in the world, private or public, has that,” he said. “In theory, the value of a petition is to help the unorganized get organized and get new ideas on the agenda. But the consequence [of the 30-day limit] is that the site doesn’t really work unless you’re very well organized and have a very large email list to start. And organized groups really have less of a need to have a petition.

“There’s always a lot of crazy ones that are very easy to ridicule. But my view of democracy is that it invites a lot of crazy ideas. That’s the whole notion of the First Amendment. The idea is the truth will win out.”

New York-based journalist Jeff Jarvis is less optimistic. On Dec. 27, he filed a petition that the White House “ignore ridiculous, publicity-baiting petitions (like this one) created to get media and tweeters’ attention.”

“Petitioning government is a right as well as an opportunity for citizens to convene and for government to collaborate with them,” the petition reads. “But this facility is becoming farcical. Indeed, this petition itself is merely link-bait, to demonstrate the point. If you’d like media to stop making fake stories out of fake petitions, sign below. Not that it will do a damned bit of good.”

Perhaps Mr. Jarvis is right: As of this week, his petition had collected just 73 signatures.

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