Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ask The President

So Obama promised us open government, right?

Well, The Nation and other media outlets (but really, The Nation is the only one that matters, right?) have teamed up to bring us a site that will, we hope, generate citizen questions to be asked of President Obama at his press conferences.

Ari Melber at the Nation writes:

We are calling on Obama to start a new tradition to open up the White House: invite new and independent voices into the East Room by pledging to take a citizen-generated question at every prime-time press conference.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the way people were using the Internet to organize and push for their own priorities in the wake of Obama's election. The Obama campaign trained a whole bunch of people in skills they'd never had before--not just old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground organizing, but using the Web and social networking tools to find like-minded folks and pull together networks.

While the Ask The President site isn't perfect (multiple duplicate questions could create problems for accurate voting tallies) its interface is extremely simple. All you have to do is click a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, you can search for questions on a topic you want (and I recommend you do so before submitting--there are hundreds of questions already). The site even has video questions, though this actually makes the process slower.

Still, if Obama would actually commit to taking citizen questions, this would not only be a major step forward for open government, but it would be a check on the gatekeepers at the mainstream media. Certain questions simply never make it through the gates to be asked, even though they may have significant popular support.

Obama's already shown himself willing to attend town hall meetings that at least appear less stage-managed than Bush's, but taking regular questions from citizens would be a great step, and this site has taken away one more excuse why not. It's being promoted on Twitter and elsewhere, and you can even follow @AskThePresident on Twitter.

The way the site is designed, it can privilege questions that have outside promotion, so I'll do my part on that level, too. Since they're embeddable, here's my recommendations for promotion: