When David All and I wrote in an Op-Ed for The Hill that “the time has come to re-imagine the world of the wired elected official,” I did not expect members of Congress to be so quick to pick up and use these new lines of communication. Halfway into the year more members of Congress are using their Web site to disseminate useful information and some, albeit very few, are actually communicating with citizens in meaningful two-way dialogue both on and off their member Web site. Perhaps the most innovative example of this is Sen. Dick Durbin’s effort to craft broadband legislation with the help of citizens online, which Ellen wrote about earlier today.
Durbin’s efforts, posted over at the blog Open Left, are the first of their kind, as he stated when announcing the project, “This is an approach to legislation that has never been tried before. If it's successful — as I believe it will be — it may become the way lawmakers approach drafting bills on other issues like education, health care, and foreign policy.”
Durbin is expanding the notion of what representational government looks like by tapping into the wisdom of experts and citizens on the Web who are regularly left out of the legislative process. Durbin has also proposed a new level of transparency by promising to draft legislation from this process and printing it on the Internet prior to introducing the bill to Congress, “I will draft legislative language, which will be posted online, for all to view and comment on prior to its introduction.”
A few months ago in a response to Liza Sabater’s “Cluetrain Manifesto for a People-Powered Politics” I wrote, “Citizens want to help you craft legislation that works and that will help you out when you come home for your district work weeks. Don’t explain your vote or bill to us after the fact, explain beforehand and let us talk back.” It appears that this message, stated numerous times throughout numerous blogs has gotten through to Sen. Durbin.
Recently, I’ve been reading The System – an inside account of the failure of the Clinton administration’s effort to enact health care reform in 1993 and 1994 – and find that in Legislation 2.0 there are certain remedies to the problems that led to the ultimate failure of health care reform (and that exist for a lot of legislation coming from both sides of the aisle). It appears that the lack of transparency and openness in the Health Care Task Force led to a lot of confusion among the general public and opened the flood gates for lobbyists and special interests to inundate the public with their own spin on the reform effort. By opening up the process to a wider audience online, especially by making it participatory and involving the public from the outset, you would maintain the ability to better counter the criticisms that would come from opposing interests. In building support for the legislation you, as a legislator or executive, would be creating more stakeholders in the process that can help push the legislation and push back against opposition.