House Republican leadership unveiled a new interactive website on Tuesday which they hailed as "revolutionary" in its democratization of the political process. But while it may deserve some acclaim for presenting a new way for voters to join the debate, the GOP initiative is sure to invite mockery by stumbling minutes after the site launched.
On Tuesday morning, GOP leaders unveiled americaspeakingout.com, a website that they pitched as a "giant step forward" towards popularizing the Republican platform. The idea is simple -- allow viewers to suggest legislative remedies that they and others could then debate and vote upon. The top suggestions would, naturally, rise to the top.
But opening up the process of debate means inviting in uncomfortable voices. Within minutes, a poster on the site suggested repealing Section II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because it was "UNCONSTITUTIONAL, PROGRESSIVE and HITLER." [yes, they used Hitler as an adjective]. (That entry has since been shut down by the GOP.)
Another poster called for government authorities to watch Muslim-Americans more closely than others -- "if they're not doing anything illegal, what do they have to worry about?" -- while a third insisted that all illegal immigrants should be let in the country. "Put the burden on those that employ them," the post read.
Any open forum seems likely to invite disruption, unruliness and extremism. But as reporters noted during Tuesday's press, americaspeakingout.com's design suffers from another flaw as well. Despite being pitched as a place for lively political discourse, it is remarkably limited. GOP leadership essentially admitted that no matter the popular sentiment, the major issues of the day are off-limits.
Take, for instance, a group of users who think that the GOP consider raising taxes in certain places. Is leadership willing to accommodate that?
"In terms of someone who wants to come on and make suggestions on how to raise taxes for example, they are welcome to do that but that is not something we are going to take up," said Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.)
"The key is to remember that we are focusing on... settled principles," he explained later, "in so far as smaller government, more accountability, more transparency and so forth. That is not news necessarily. What is news though is the invitation for Americans to submit their questions and answers within that framework."
There were, in addition, other mild controversial elements to the website's launch. Republican leadership paid for the site (and the fancy set where it was launched) with taxpayer dollars -- a seeming contradiction to their constant complaints about uncontrolled spending on the part of President Obama.
"This doesn't cost much more than an average website," explained Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the visionary behind the effort and the congressman tasked with getting Republicans elected this fall. "It's funny. Only in Washington do you get in trouble for trying to let the people have more voice than their government."
In addition to the funding, questions persisted as to what role, if any, the new site will play in the 2010 elections. No less a GOP authority than former Speaker Newt Gingrich had framed the idea as the first step in the process of remaking a Contract with America -- the policy proposals that Gingrich himself strung together to retake power in 1994. But the current GOP leadership insists that americapseakingout.com has nothing to do with the mid-term elections.
"This is not about candidates, this is not about an election," said McCarthy. "It is about today... We will introduce [these ideas on the floor]. Before Congress leaves and I don't think you have to wait until September."
Indeed, GOP leadership was so intent on removing the stench of partisan politics from the website that Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) went so far as to divulge that he and others are planning to launch an entirely separate effort related to the election.
"Apart from this, Republicans have discussed coming forward with our plans for the future and over the course of the next three months we are going to continue to work with the American people, work with those who are interested, in terms of developing what that is," he said.