Executive website not being used to its full potential
Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 20:02
Last year, the White House unveiled an online petition website called ‘We the People,’ where Americans can petition the executive branch on issues they consider important. Once a requisite amount of signatures are obtained, the Oval Office will issue a statement on the issue. This is a valuable tool for democracy if it is used properly, but both sides need to do so for it to work.
Neither the White House nor the people have utilized the website to its fullest extent so far. While some recent petition responses have touched on important issues, such as legalization of marijuana, Wall Street reform and human rights violations in Sri Lanka, there have also been some frivolous petitions such as posting the White House beer recipe and even some completely ridiculous ones like building a Death Star. All of these petitions obtained the required number of signatures to merit a response.
When the Oval Office is issuing statements filled with Star Wars puns on why President Obama will not order construction of a Death Star, it is obvious that the petition site is not being put to its best use. If the American people want President Obama to take their petitions seriously, we should do the same. The Death Star petition and other frivolous ones jeopardize the success of future petitions.
However, the White House needs to take the people’s petitioning seriously as well. Many of their responses have amounted to nothing more than “we will consider it” or “maybe someday.” None of the petitions have inspired new legislation. If the White House really cares about the role of the people, as they claimed when putting the site together, they should allow the people’s voice to be put into action. Of course, not all of the petitions should be implemented, but if the White House wants to show they care, they should at least take action on some of them. Otherwise, there is no point in having the website.
Furthermore, because so many people are petitioning the White House, they have raised the required number of signatures multiple times, originally needing 5,000, then 25,000, and now 100,000 signatures. This significantly reduces the likelihood that the White House will have to respond. Since raising the threshold to 100,000 at the beginning of January, no petitions have earned a response.
At the time of writing, no petitions that require 100,000 signatures have achieved that lofty number. Only two active petitions of over 280 currently available to sign have a reasonable chance of reaching that number within the allotted 30 days. It will be very hard for future petitions to earn responses due to the White House’s continual toughening of the requirements. At best, the executive branch is lazy and does not want to craft many responses. At worst, it is defiant and does not want to listen to the will of the people.
By creating ‘We the People,’ the White House said they wanted citizens to have a voice in the way this country is run. Unfortunately, as long as they fail to listen to the voice and make it harder for the people to express it, this plan will be a failure.
However, the people are not immune from blame. If they fail to take the petition website seriously and sign petitions requesting the White House beer recipe and construction of a Death Star, it is easy to see why it is getting harder for petitions to succeed. One reason for raising the threshold is to stop frivolous petitions. However, this also makes it harder for serious petitions to succeed.
When the petitions are legitimate, which most of them are, the government owes the people more than just a statement of understanding, at least sometimes. Some of the petition requests, such as outlawing defamation of religious prophets, are unconstitutional and should not be implemented. However, official action on at least some of the petitions would show that the government is listening. I’m not suggesting President Obama give in to mob rule by enacting every petition he receives, but to date, only one of the 98 petitions to gather the requisite number of signatures has had successful action taken in response. Even that didn’t promote much in the way of democracy. The White House picked a softball petition and decided to release the White House recipe for homebrewed beer. We The People deserve more than that.