The Obama administration announced plans on Thursday for a We the People online feature that would allow anybody to create a petition on the White House Web site. Any petition that got 5,000 or more signatures in 30 days would get an official White House review and response.
When I ran for this office, I pledged to make government more open and accountable to its citizens, President Obama said in a press release. That's what the new We the People feature on WhiteHouse.gov is all about -- giving Americans a direct line to the White House on the issues and concerns that matter most to them.
According to the press release, if a petition reaches the 5,000-signature threshold, it will be sent to the appropriate policy makers throughout the Administration, reviewed, and an official response will be published to WhiteHouse.gov and emailed to all signers of the petition.
The initiative is a clear effort to shore up President Obama's reputation in advance of next November's election, as his Gallup approval rating recently dropped below 40 percent, one of his lowest numbers ever. The Republican primary candidates have attacked him right and left, painting him as out of touch with voters and the White House as unaccountable for its policies.
People are tired of Washington not listening and how out of touch politicians are, one particularly conservative candidate, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, said at a campaign stop in Iowa in July, referring to the debt-ceiling debate.
Obama is surely hoping to counter these accusations by making it easier to petition the administration and by promising a public response to popular petitions. How successful the effort will be depends on how popular the feature becomes -- that is, how many people actually take the time to submit and sign petitions -- and on the substance of Obama's responses to them.
If voters think his responses are dismissive, the initiative could backfire. But if he actively pursues at least some of the policies suggested in the petitions, it could boost his poll numbers quite a bit and undercut one of his opponents' biggest talking points.