Obama’s Petition Site — Real Deal or Re-Election Ploy?

The White House announced a new petition site this week that allows Americans to petition their government as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Now, citizens are encouraged to submit petitions electronically, seeking action from the federal government online. Yet like so many seemingly “good news” events, questions about the White House’s motivation are being raised.

Named “We the People,” the website explains that when a petition gathers enough signatures (5,000 or more within 30 days), White House staff will review it, send it to the appropriate policy experts and issue an official response. No time period is revealed for the official response. Petitions can be submitted by any citizen 13 years of age or older.

According to GOP spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski, “The President is clearly in campaign mode from his fundraisers to his campaign bus tour and now more campaign tactics coming out from the official White House. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to Americans who have come to see him as the ultimate campaigner-in-chief.” One might further ask: Does “We the People” even raise the specter of having one’s email address added to Obama’s campaign list? Of then receiving political mail and requests for money?

President Obama opines on the site: “When I ran for this office, I pledged to make government more open and accountable to its citizens. That’s what the new ‘We the People’ feature on WhiteHouse.gov is all about — giving Americans a direct line to the White House on the issues and concerns that matter most to them.”

His words seem a bit late and somehow too contrived, especially after almost three years have passed, filled with back room secret meetings (on Obamacare), covert negotiations (on the debt crisis) and obfuscated, quietly-executed flip-flops that anger even his supporters (Gitmo remaining open, EPA rules being dropped, etc.)

Americans are encouraged to use social media and email to gather support for their petitions, which suggests a flurry of electronic communication across the country, engaging real people on real issues. However past online events, such as Obama’s Twitter Town Hall campaign, ranked legalization of marijuana in the top three topics, to which the White House gave no coverage or reply. Some are doubtful the petition site and its staff will be able to deal with the multitudes who submit petitions ranging from serious to ridiculous.

For the moment, let’s give the White House a chance. We can wait to see if this petition site lives beyond the campaign season, and if it produces anything useful. If it is just a ploy, there is no doubt we will all hear a lot more about it. In the meantime, maybe some crowd-sourcing citizen intellect will bring the Feds a truly new, creative and practical solution to some of the nation’s problems.

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