George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “All professions are conspiracies against the laity,” and nowhere is this more the case than in a democracy where we organize government as the closed domain of governmental professionals.
And what’s the result? Because we assume that government alone possesses the expertise to make public-policy decisions, the way we “do politics” is broken.
Under Bush, agencies are able to make closed-door decisions about the standards for cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcasting and limiting overtime pay for workers. They use ideoglogically-driven junk science to justify the failure to confront global warming. Public information that belongs to the taxpayers is hidden in government files and, when available on the Web, not in a form that’s accessible to or usable by Americans. Even when manipulation is not at issue, government is hampered by the lack of quality technology that would make information with which to make decisions available.
Alone among the U.S. Presidential candidates, Barack Obama is confronting the question of how to produce more accountable and effective politics in our democracy.
His just-released Tech Plan (Download Obama Tech Plan) uniquely understands that the time, expertise and enthusiasm that ordinary people invest in making Wikipedia better, for example, can be transformed into practices to make government work better and more accountably. So he doesn't just call for making information more transparent to citizens; he wants to hear what we have to say and enable us to participate. The Plan calls for citizen engagement in the work of federal agencies and demonstrates respect for the intelligence and expertise of the American people. He calls for opening up the closed practices of government and using new technology to enable genuine citizen participation and engagement in our democracy.
This is a major and unprecedented step.
No other candidate “gets it.”
They pay lip service to transparency. He proposes making government data available online as well as ensuring that agencies do their work in public.
They talk about citizen congresses that would deliberate in quaint town hall meetings having nothing to do with real world politics or power. He proposes engaging citizens in the actual and ongoing work and decision-making of government -- not Americans talking to elected officials but Americans genuinely participating.
They talk about technology and innovation. He offers a comprehensive broadband strategy, commitment to media diversity, and a proposal to improve patent quality, including the practice of rigorous, public peer review like Peer-to-Patent.
They talk about strong IP. He balances his support of strong IP with recognition of the need to promote collaboration and innovation.
I am excited about Obama’s Tech Plan. In fact, it should be called the “Democracy Plan.”
He alone does what a President should do, namely articulate a vision for democracy in the digital age.
He wants to:
- Establish pilot programs to open up government decision-making and involve the public in the work of agencies.
- Solicit expertise and opinions from Americans, not just talk to or at them.
- Use the Web to allow people to participate, not just observe the business of democracy.
- Make government information openly available in accessible formats.
- Enable people to make use of government data to comment, derive value, and take action in their own communities. For example, he describes how greater access to environmental data can help citizens learn about pollution in their communities, provide information about local conditions back to government and empower people to protect themselves.
- Deploy the latest Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis and social networking tools to make government more effective and more efficient.
- Hire a CTO to ensure more rational and effective use of technology and compliance with the openness requirements of the E-Government Act.
As the Plan says: “Obama’s forward-thinking 21st century technology and innovation policy starts by recognizing that we need to connect all citizens with each other to engage them more fully and directly in solving the problems that face us. In tandem with that goal, Barack Obama understands that we must use all available technologies and methods to open up the federal government, creating a new level of transparency to change the way business is conducted in Washington and giving Americans the chance to participate in government deliberations and decision-making in ways that were not possible only a few years ago.”
I am excited about a political race for the first time.
Because Senator Obama's proposal to open up government decision-making represents a powerful commitment to democracy and one that I am proud to support publicly and wholeheartedly.
For more on the Obama Tech Plan, also see:
Later in the day.....