The White House's New We the People Petition Website

Author: JH Snider
Coverage Type: op-ed
The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20500, United States

[Commentary] On September 22, 2011, the White House quietly launched the We the People petition website. The White House explained the website as follows:

“The right to petition your government is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. We the People provides a new way to petition the Obama Administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country. We created We the People because we want to hear from you.”

At launch, the public was told that if it got 5,000 signatures (subsequently increased to 25,000), White House staff would review the petition, send it to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response. The President should be applauded for launching this democratically enhancing but politically risky initiative. However, We The People will probably only have a short life. This is because the interests of the public and elected officials differ. The public is inclined to ask politicians to take controversial stands that politicians have no rational self-interest in taking. Most rational politicians avoid clearly or truthfully answering controversial questions like the plague for they know that they have more to lose than gain by doing so.


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