White House Uses Petitions as a Venue to Get Real with the People
While the idea of petitioning the government is not a new concept, the method in which the Obama administration is handling petitions is unique and trendy. It has been almost seventeen months since We the People, the online petition system, was launched on the official White House website in September of 2011.
What started out as a “whiteboard jot” while trying to get more Americans to contribute to the official website of the people of these United States, the idea matured into a venue for the people’s voice. However, it is more than just a voice for the people; it is a conduit for the President and his staff to promote their position on everything from gun control to abortion to internet gambling.
The website has an easy to use flow; you can start a new petition, look for a petition, or review White House responses to petitions. When the petition reaches the required minimum of 100,000 signatures, the White House will respond. When you sign any petition, “you implicitly agree that the White House has a right to communicate with you about the matter by email. That’s why this works at 1600 Penn.” (Scherer)
There is no limitation as to what you can petition the White House on; in fact, if you need a few hours of entertainment, perusing the ideals your fellow Americans think are important can be time well spent.
Some of the recent petitions include:
Make English the official language of the United States of America (Last signature count 4613 02/09/13)
Require that all civilian firearms be painted pink (Last signature count 2318 02/09/13)
“We believe this simple act will fundamentally change the dynamic of American gun culture while still passing Constitutional scrutiny. All will be free to legally buy guns-just so long as they are Fabulous.” (petitions.whiteouse)
Mandate paid maternity leave! (Last signature count 10,120 02/09/13)
Require women to register with the selective service at age 18 like their male counterparts (Last signature count 3484 02/09/13)
When the White House responds, it is in typical governmental fashion; there is the usual bureaucratic hyperbole thanking you for participating in the system, references to ambiguous pieces of legislature supposedly pertaining to your original petition and sometimes a few words from the President.
Response to – Addressing the Freedoms of Speech and Religion
“Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As President of our country and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day — and I will always defend their right to do so.” (Obama – petitions.whitehouse)
Response to – Ending Pet Homelessness through Responsible Pet Ownership
“The federal law governing the breeding of dogs and cats is the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which is enforced by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The AWA covers commercial breeders of dogs, cats, and other animals, but does not apply to privately owned pets or stray animals. It also does not include provisions concerning spay/neuter practices. Instead, pets and stray animals typically fall under the jurisdiction of state and local governments. We encourage concerned citizens to work with humane organizations and state and local animal control offices to help them in their efforts to promote adoption of animals, and to educate pet owners about the importance of spaying and neutering their dogs and cats.” (petitions.whitehouse)
While I believe the model is essentially a good concept, like most ideas that begin with the benefactors’ best interests at heart, it did not take long for the We the People website to follow suit. According to Scherer’s Time Magazine article, “We the People”, when the exciting and new channel to the American citizens began, the minimum requirement for a White House response was 25,000 signatures; in just over a year, the limit was raised to four times the amount, 100,000.
The staff also appears to pick and choose what they determine they should respond to, instead of following the 25,000 or 100,000-signature rule. While I have no doubt they do respond to every petition reaching the minimum requirement, (They even responded to a petition about creating a Death Star) they published a response to a request for the Honey Ale home-brew recipe even though there were only 12,240 responses.
Like the main character in Dr. Seuss’ I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today, President Obama and his staff have theoretically said, “While we want to get closer to the masses, we do not wish to get THAT close to them”. Therefore, one by one, they will whittle away the reasoning why this will not work, or that will not work; until the tigers all walk away.
As the great Dr. Seuss once said, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
Scherer, Michael, We the People, Time Magazine, Vol. 181, No. 5, 2013, February 11, 2013, Pg 36-37
To check out the current petitions, or to start your own, go to: