We the People trolls deliver important message


Rarely has an ill-thought-out policy effort come back to haunt an administration with so much glee as the elections' sore losers have shown by commandeering the White House online petition (the patronizingly named "We the People") to demand secession.

That the creators of those petitions and their signers are Internet trolls apparently too stupid to grasp that living in a democracy inevitably means your side will lose elections doesn't require elaboration.

That they've found an amplifier for their trolling through "We the People," however, is actually a public service, since it's an occasion to point out again the ill-thought-out reliance the Obama administration has placed on its websites, as if they were a substitute for actual governance.

It's not just with the public that the administration has done so--witness the proliferation of dashboards for federal spending, for IT spending and for performance measures.  

Unfortunately, the failure of those websites isn't victimless.

If on the one hand you allow that the Obama administration wasn't really so naïve as to believe that "We the People" would be a genuine channel to The People instead of a troll or lost cause dumping ground, then we're left with the uncomfortable conclusion that the administration is engaging in tokenism. Tokenism breeds cynicism and contempt; it makes participatory democracy that much more difficult. Certainly the nature of White House responses to petition responses lends itself to that conclusion--rote reaffirmations of current policy probably written by low-level staffers. You get the sense that the petitions are never seen by anyone who has real power. If that's the case, what's the point?

On the other hand, if the Obama administration really was so naïve as to think that "We the People" would permit it to tap into the outside-the-Beltway opinions, the great unadulterated collective consciousness of the American People, then one must ask why the main lesson of the dot com boom collapse appears to have bypassed this administration--just because it's on a website, doesn't mean it's a paradigm change. Did they really still believe in the magical properties of websites? Did they really think that democracy could be made more participatory and therefore more direct...by constructing a website? Did they really believe in shortcuts as simple as that?

Regardless--I don't know which option is worse--the secessionist trolls have given an unsolicited gift that the administration would be wise to take, even if it was offered in a fit of stupid anger. The gift is a message: Work on building real solutions, not fake ones. - Dave