Thursday, December 11, 2008

Another Small Step for the Plebiscitary Process

Stephanie Condon's latest Politics and Law report for CNET News is once again on the scent of the consequences of an unbridled alliance between technology and governance:

President-elect Barack Obama's transition team on Wednesday launched a tool on its transition site that utilizes the collaborative nature of Web 2.0 tools to bring to attention issues that matter to voters.

Its "Open for Questions" tool allows visitors to submit a question for the transition team and, much like Digg, allows users to vote for other people's questions they find important or vote against questions they don't like. The most popular questions will be regularly answered by the Obama team.

As of Wednesday evening, 159,890 had voted on 1,986 questions from 3,255 people. The most popular question was, "What will you do to establish transparency and safeguards against waste with the rest of the Wall Street bailout money?" The second most popular question was, "What will you do as President to restore the Constitutional protections that have been subverted by the Bush Administration and how will you ensure that our system of checks and balances is renewed?"

Obama's advisers had previously indicated that the president-elect would use such a collaborative approach to come up with solutions for problems like regulating the privacy terms for electronic health records.

"That's the kind of thing that shouldn't be decided by one person in the new administration," Obama adviser Reed Hundt said in October.

Regular readers may remember that the above remark by Hundt had earned him the final Chutzpah of the Week award for the month of October, basically for promoting his "wisdom of the crowds" mantra against a background knowledge of governance that seemed to run the gamut from naive to flat-out ignorant. Condon may thus have tapped into Hundt as one of the key Obama advisers responsible for undermining (perhaps, if not probably, inadvertently) our Constitutional foundations of a representative government with a plebiscitary process that is not only susceptible to predatory practices (as some of the comments to Condon's report recognized) but also has a historical track record as a predisposing, if not instrumental, cause of the establishment of fascist practices. I realize that an adjective like "ignorant" has a hyperbolic ring to it; but, as I had argued in making my "chutzpah case," Hundt is so hung up on that "wisdom of crowds" that he seems to have blocked out arguments to the contrary that can be found not only in The Federalist but also in far older sources such as Plato (and possibly Juvenal).

We have heard much about how Barack Obama values diversity of opinions and perspectives in policy matters concerning issues such as the economy, foreign relations, and homeland security. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Constitutional basics (in which he was so well-versed as an academic) concerning the relationship between government and the "Consent of the Governed," he may have fallen under the influence of Web 2.0 Kool-Aid on the grounds that it was Web 2.0 thinking that led to his winning the election. The President Elect is clearly a busy man right now; but someone needs to help him recover his sense of reality regarding his relation to his electorate!

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