Ask the President

Ask the President


Of his many promises during the 2008 Presidential campaign, one of themost appealing was Barack Obama’s pledge to make his administration “themost open and transparent in history.” The democratizing tools masteredat and the inspiring grassroots enthusiasm forthe Obama campaign opened the door to a Presidency that–instark contrast to the eight years before it–could be an honestconversation with the American people. Thisweek we are launching anew projectto continue that effort; more on that in a moment.

Like many of the issues that Barack Obama now confronts as President,prioritizing his campaign promise of open government and meaningfuldialogue with citizens has proved challenging. After someinterestingforays into interaction at during thetransition, The White House itself has not yet found it’s wayforward on interactivity.

As newspapers struggle nationwide, and citizens demand more transparencyin the wake of unprecedented government action on the economy, I believethis is a critical moment to advance participatory, bottom-up journalismand citizen engagement. Interest in our new President is at a peak, andinstituting an independent and sensible way for the people to have aplatform at the highest levels of government is essential to informeddebate and progress on the changes many of us hope to see over the nextfour years.

In that spirit The Nation, with several partners, is launching anewinitiative, “Ask the President,” to advance citizen voices andparticipatory media at The White House. The idea is simple:, anyone can submit a question for President Obama, written or by video.Site visitors then vote on the questions, with the most popular andpressing ones rising to the top. We will then send a credentialedjournalist into formal Obama Administration press conferences to ask theleading citizen questions. Presently we are in conversations with theAdministration about this effort.

Our coalition includes new and traditional media from across thepolitical spectrum, including: The Nation, The Washington Times, Personal DemocracyForum,,,, Citizens for CivilDiscourse, Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist), Professor LarryLessig; Professor HughHewitt (; The Field Blog; Jack and Jill Politics Blog;Culture Kitchen Blog and the Smart Mobs blog, among others.

So far, initial conversations about this project with The White Househave been encouraging. We see this as an innovation that President Obamashould welcome–an independent, cooperative way to forward thePresident’s promise of transparent government that empowers voicesbeyond Washington.

You can read the proposal in more detailby checking out AriMelber’s article in thecurrent issue of The Nation; then go and submityour questions now at AskthePresident.

The technology, of course, is a means to an end: an engaged and excitedelectorate having a spirited debate with the President. Granted, this isonly one question at a semi-regular event, but as journalism transformsand technology shifts, Ask the President could help to democratize thereporting and prioritizing of political news, and encourage the Obamaadministration to keep a critical promise. It’s just a first step, butone that we believe is wellworth taking.

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