The White House is engaging in a experiment with their We The People campaign. The site allows anyone to start a petition on any issue they want. If they build support and generate 5,000 signatures for the petition, the White House promises to review and respond to it. The review will be done internally by Administration officials. The President, in a statement, characterized it as “giving Americans a direct line to the White House on the issues and concerns that matter most to them.”

There’s more at CBS News.

This reminds me of the groups during the Presidential campaign. After then-candidate Obama announced his support for the FISA amendments act, activists opposed to Obama’s position used the tools on MyBarackObama to create a Get Fisa Right group that eventually became the biggest group on the site, with tens of thousands of supporters. Eventually, Obama responded to the Get FISA Right group, where he pledged to listen to the group’s concerns and “seek to earn [their] ongoing support.” There was a promise of an internal review of the FISA law after the election.

None of this really happened. The Administration has adopted the tools of warrantless surveillance from the Bush Administration and arguably taken them further. The group pressured the President to address their concerns in a statement, but the engagement really ended there.

And I wouldn’t expect much of anything more from this petition thing. I’m sure activists will use it to get their questions answered, but I’m also sure that they will find the answers unsatisfying, nor will policy change as a result. By keeping the mechanism for outreach internal, the White House can try to keep the engagement controlled. And that’s really the only point here. The right to “petition government for redress of grievances” is alluded to here, but in the modern age that has become more of a tool for lobbyists than anything.

David Dayen

David Dayen