Pressure Relief or Policy Director

Pat Ryan

Those Crazy Obama Kidz put up the new website last week. It's touted as a site where we Little People will add our voices to the top echelons of Beltway and gummint insiders. Right now, it's about as sophisticated as some of the legislative sites that we're used to, with a single form to type in your comment, hit post, and into the Ether, never to be heard from again. This is gummint interaction 1.5, slightly more advanced than riding horses from Georgia to Philadelphia for a Continental Congress, but not much more useful than letters to the editor or say.... a meeting of Drinking Liberally. 

During the primaries I ventured out into the Strum und Drang of Daily Kos, and saw little that tempted me to add it to my bookmarks. It's diffuse, repetitive, and huge, and at the margins can be wildly inaccurate. However, the model looks like a good starting point for structural organization. Anyone and everyone is free to attack the pressing concerns of their respective issues, but only if they get enough interest and traffic are they promoted to Main Page Relevance.

The other model worth folding into the mix is the many sites out there like Tech Support Guy , Tech Forums, or even current politically oriented sites like US Messageboard . Start or join a policy thread, set up a feed link and you will get the thoughts from your fellow topic enthusiasts, and  can comment from anywhere at any time.

These ain't blogs and the defining difference is the mission of the owners. With rigorous monitoring and aggregation of ideas, 2.0 could be another step into participatory democracy in real time. The administrators of such a site could feed summaries with comments and popularity statistics right to the policy makers as they work on upgrading or making new law on behalf of the citizenry. Conversely, gummint wonks could occasionally drop into various threads of interest and add relevant info from Inside, that can both educate participants regarding How it All Works and provide additional insight regarding thinking, procedures, and laws that can advance or modify an idea, or make it impracticable for a definable reason.

All of this is predicated on the idea that the 10,000,000 or so contacts that Obama made in the election cycle are as important to him as he has stated repeatedly. I'm willing to believe that for now.

I would have posted this on, but the site ain't ready yet.

  • Fair and Balanced (unverified)

    Pat, this sounds something like the idea that I posted to the first day it was up.

    I suggested that Obama set up a Citizen Cabinet consisting of "Main Street" folks who would solicit and filter suggestions and reactions from their peers, and funnel them to contact points in the Administration. They could focus on specific policy questions as well as triaging ideas coming over the transom.

    This would undoubtedly be best handled through a website, but it would be somewhat more structured so that good ideas and critiques could bubble up on their merit, rather than getting lost in the brambles of a site like DailyKos.

    The Citizen Cabinet could also provide some direct input through occasional meetings.

    The point would be for ordinary citizens to have a way of getting through, without taking anything away from the existing, albeit clogged, channels.

    How much fun would that be, to be in the middle of that link?

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    To Obama's credit, he has hired Mike Lux to his transition team.

    While I haven't spent much time at the site, I do think Lux is an important piece of the puzzle to help keep Obama engaged with the netroots and the rest of us..the great unwashed masses.

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    so that good ideas and critiques could bubble up on their merit, rather than getting lost in the brambles of a site like DailyKos.

    Yeah that's the chokepoint. You'd need either administrator interest or massive public interest to define "merit" and some undoubtedly good ideas would get lost in the shuffle, but with savvy management, the thing could still be useful.


    Re Lux: I'm willing to temporarily stipulate his progressive credentials, and he seems able to form scores of new non-profits at a single bound, but it will take a team of experienced web pros to manage this thing if it's gonna fulfill it's potential.


    One of the perks of watching this whole thing is that I can't honestly predict anything that Obama might do next.

    disciplined than myself for a long time.........

    Pretty low bar, too. Clinton had the first half of it....

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    disciplined than myself for a long time.........


    should read:

    I've been waiting for someone both smarter and more disciplined than myself for a long time.........

  • Dil Mirch (unverified)

    Well, this is kind of like an English chef beating you in a cook-off because your presentation was too bland, but, I am very impressed with some of the UK ministers' websites.

    Admittedly, you have to have "government" expectations, but I think they're a solid effort. Of course, all ad hoc, arm chair evaluations of any tool are suspect, and I had the opportunity this summer to avail myself of one Gerry Sutcliffe, the UK Minister for Sport's services. I run a cricketing charity in the US and was disturbed by one of the England bowlers making statements on the record that all sport was like English football, anymore, just get over it.

    Anyway, his website had a better version of the "submit a comment in to ether form", and after three weeks I got a 2 page, detailed reply to my issues from one of his staffers. Apologies that the Minister wasn't able to address the issue in the Commons. Oh, and I made it clear from the outset that I was an Oregonian, not an expat.

    Maybe it's just the getting a detailed response part that makes the website seem better! I'd like passenger pigeon if I could get that kind of answer from Sen. Wyden! And you gotta love the Brit English. "Surgery" seems more like the experience than "Town Meeting"...

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    Not to seem cynical, Pat, but I suspect Obama's long list of email names and text contacts will be used in the good old fashioned way--to generate public support for his policy proposals.

    As to a truly 2.0 government, I elect leaders to lead. I don't expect, nor do I want, my fellow citizens running government.

    And the throught of a 10,000,000 person town hall sounds a lot like Ross Perot and sends shivers up my spine. Besides being completely infeasible.

  • Greg D. (unverified)

    Amen to Paul G.'s post. The election is over. Now I want my duly elected president and legislators to GOVERN. I want my elected leaders use their intelligence and informed judgment to make decisions that they believe to be right and in the best interests of the US and its citizens. If I disagree with the end results of their efforts, I will use my vote in the next election, not my Internet connection.

    Fortunately, we do not (yet?) have a federal government that includes Bill Sizemore style citizen initiatives. In my opinion and experience, government based upon opinion polls, populist uprisings, etc. is generally bad government.

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    As to a truly 2.0 government, I elect leaders to lead

    Well that's very small "r" republican of you Paul, but my position is that at this level of complexity, the leaders could benefit from outside input if they're intent on sorting for relevance and have the right crew manning the input nozzle.

    I'm always unwilling to believe that a given group of "experts" have The Final Truth on any topic.

    A 10,000,000 person townhall would be the essence of democracy and as for feasibility, I don't think that you or anyone else currently alive can predict what useful systems and metrics might come into play around the idea, and we'll sure never know if it don't get tried.....

  • Fair and Balanced (unverified)

    Of course you can go too far in either the republican or democratic direction in a democratic republic. Our initiative system is an excess of democracy, enabling a few activists to manipulate public opinion by spending money. The recent Republican domination of Washington is an excess of the opposite, enabling a few (somethings) to ignore public opinion altogether.

    My proposal of a Citizen Cabinet tries to create a middle ground, where people have the chance to provide meaningful input to the executive as well as to Congress. One criticism might be that this is part of what Congress is supposed to do. But in the current campaign finance environment, members of Congress are so busy fundraising they can barely keep on top of 10-pound bill packets, let alone processing input from constituents. The Citizen Cabinet would be free from fundraising and voting, and could focus on gathering and filtering such inputs.

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    Pat, is it too snarky to wonder if a piece of Paul's reaction is that what you're talking about amounts to a kind of complement if not alternative to his kind of polling? ;->

    Rather than a town meeting -- which actually makes decisions, and in modern Massachusetts, actually is a representative institution in most towns in which "town meeting member" is an elected office -- what you describe seems closer to something like a mass electronic focus group. It would create a kind of information about public opinion that emerges from a process of discussion and deliberation, rather than a snapshot of current attitudes toward questions as framed, with a black box between the question and the answer (the hows and whys).

    Another analogy: a somewhat more interactive and less editorially filtered letters to the editor page.

    I wouldn't want it to be Perot-style "direct democracy," which in mass electronic form is easily manipulable by question framing, as I've seen in's operations, for instance. Such things are more in the nature of instant plebiscites than direct democracy IMO. But encouraging deliberation and giving representatives fuller information not only about what people think but what they say about why, or how they would say questions are wrongly framed could enrich representation.

    Of course, it would have self-selection problems. On the other hand that's also true of other forms of public opinion, e.g. op-ed punditry.

    By the same token, you might want to consider segmentation -- rather than just one big site, break out policy areas to help focus attention and interest -- to take advantage of self-selection.

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    <h2>Agreed on all points and to emphasize......A Wisdom of Crowds Group of groups would only be advisory in nature and thus continues to retain the republican form of government and avoids the Mob Rule drawbacks of direct democracy.....</h2>

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