Editor’s Note: The Nation is leading a new initiative, “Ask The President,” to advance citizen questions at President Obama’s press conferences. You can submit and vote on questions here.
On his first day in office, President Obama pledged to make his administration “the most open and transparent in history.” Americans can already see more of their government–from splashy slide shows of Oval Office meetings to newly declassified memos about the executive’s wartime powers. Unlike Obama’s dynamically interactive campaign, however, WhiteHouse.gov does not foster much meaningful dialogue with citizens. At least not yet.
Obama can go much further to deliver on his promise. He took a small step in February by fielding a question from a Huffington Post reporter at his first press conference. Yet advancing a connected, engaged citizenry requires more than acknowledging the rise of online media. Here is one tradition that Obama could start: invite new and independent voices into the East Room by pledging to take a citizen-generated question at every prime-time press conference.
To put this idea into action–and give the busy White House something tangible to work with–The Nation is teaming up with a broad coalition of new and traditional media, including the Washington Times and the Personal Democracy Forum, to begin gathering questions from you, the public.
“Ask the President” uses CommunityCounts.com, an interactive portal that provided public voting on questions for politicians during the presidential primaries. It was built by David Colarusso, a 30-year-old law student and former high school teacher. (You can participate now at communitycounts.com/obama.)
The coalition is inviting people to write in questions or submit them as videos. Participants can see all the questions on the site and vote on the ones the president should answer. The system allows only one vote per question from each Internet IP address, but there is no limit on how many questions people can support. The portal also enables anyone to embed questions on other websites. So after posting a question about bank nationalization, for example, a participant can then link to that question on another site–a blog or news site–and appeal to others to back it.
After public voting, the coalition will select and send a credentialed journalist to attend the next presidential press conference, ready to choose from the list of the most popular citizen questions. (This journalist would focus only on these questions from citizens and would not reduce the time available for the standing pool of White House reporters.) The precise question will not be announced in advance, though the choices will obviously be public. At the press conference, the journalist can choose from the top questions, prioritizing a topic that is substantive, factual and that has not already been addressed by the president.