Full-participation government?


Among the tenets of the Barack Obama innovation strategy is the promotion of policy which “catalyzes active citizenship and partnerships in shared governance with civil society institutions.” Public Knowledge exec and frequent Capitol Hill testifier Gigi Sohn explained to the Washington Post what this in part may mean, in terms of, for example, the FCC. "You have a system there where basically you have to be an expert to participate,” Sohn said. “The average Joe wouldn’t know how to submit FCC comments and get things from the FCC because the processes are opaque and the Web site is so difficult to navigate," Sohn said. "The President-elect’s idea is to say let’s let people participate but also be actually part of policy making." She suspects similar grassroots participation may be encouraged everywhere within the Washington policy-making infrastructure.

RBR/TVBR observation: We’ll believe THAT when we see it. As compelling as the 2008 elections were, there was still a huge percentage of America that didn’t show up. And campaigns universally had to find a way to get their message out to LIVs – low information voters. The average citizen is not going to pay attention when the FCC is taking comments on Class A must carry or the main studio rule.

As a matter of fact, it is stunning how much interaction there has been between the FCC and the public ever since Michael Powell tried to push through another round of ownership deregulation and Janet Jackson took off her blouse. But in both cases, the vast majority of the interaction has been citizens clicking a message pre-written by one of Sohn’s experts and then clicking send.

And it’s not a particularly good way to make policy. It is not a representative sample of public opinion. You find out – over and over and over again – that a particular website has like-minded visitors who own a computer mouse.

The United States government is a representative democracy, and most citizens seem content to let the legislators and bureaucrats muddle through as best they can with minimum daily citizen input. We doubt there is any measure of idealism that can overcome this reality.