Tag Archives: policy

Thoughts on the #AskObama Twitter Town Hall

It was an interesting concept, and a fascinating look at social media interaction. The White House hosted 140 visitors to hold the first ever Twitter town hall. Jack Dorsey, the creator and co-founder and Executive Chairman of Twitter, asked President Obama from Twitter users around the country. Questions were tweeted to the hash tag #AskObama, and then either retweeted direction by the White House or a collection of curators. Twitter users were also encouraged to re-tweet questions that they supported, and to tweet their reactions to Obama’s answers.

On average Obama used 2,099 characters to answer questions less than 140 characters, but the President also began the town hall with a live tweet that was 96 characters long. The subject of the town hall was about the economy and jobs, but Obama fielded questions about topics as varied as higher education, immigration, and collective bargaining. While the first several questions had been selected from tweets earlier in the day, later questions were selected that were tweeted during the town hall. The event did give the feeling of some live interaction, but there were a few things that could have been improved.

While Dorsey served as the moderator to read the questions from Twitter and move the town hall forward, he did not ask follow up questions or ask Obama to clarify his answers. Perhaps the moderator would have been better suited for a journalist – maybe someone from CNN since they always seem to be reading tweets on the air. Then there was the decision to ask questions tweeted from Speaker of the House John Boehner and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. That seems to defeat the entire purpose of the event. David Meerman Scott, who tweeted the first question, does not have the same access to the President as the Speaker of the House and a New York Times columnist.

Outside of the tweets that were appearing on the screen in the White House, the social messaging system was exploding with tweets asking questions, responding to Obama, and responding to each other. While I had my own question for the President, I spent the town hall sharing my thoughts on the Obama’s answers and interacting with others on Twitter. The conversation in the end may have been the most important part of the event, as we were all able to join in a national dialog about policy. When you have thousands of people participating in the conversation, a limitation of 140 characters does prevent anyone from monopolizng the discussion. What’s the opposite of a filibuster?


Policy or Political Problem?

We have public policy problems, caused by political problems. The budget, the deficit, and the debt are all public policy problems with multiple solutions. In fact most of our problems in domestic policy, foreign policy, or culturally have multiple solutions. However, our political institutions have been unable to address our public policy problems, and innovated solutions have been ignored. Why is that?

Ezra Klein writes that “Americans live in a new economic reality, and it’s long past time that Washington did, too. In the short term, the nation faces a jobs crisis; in the long-term, a debt crisis. Each crisis presents opportunities to overhaul the state for a new era. Instead, Democrats and Republicans are using both to double down on the same stale ideas they were pushing in 2005, 2001, 1997 and even earlier.” Klein then lays out a case for some interesting and innovative solutions for both long term and short term problems.

Klein goes on to say that “You wouldn’t know that such options even exist from the state of our cramped debates about jobs and the deficit. But those stilted discussions are a function of the political environment, not the policy options.” While he has laid out a case for our policy problems, he didn’t really address our political problems. Without addressing our political problem the policy problems are going to continue to be exasperated. These political problems manifest in political polarization and filter bubbles.

Political polarization has been increasing steadily over the last thirty years, and this has had a dramatic effect on public policy. Political scientists Keith Poole and Christopher Hare have published research that shows that Congress is more politically polarized that at any time since the late 19th Century. This polarization has happened due to redistricting efforts that has protected incumbents and the party in power, and the conservative movement that has moved the Republican Party further to the right. The political parties are so far apart, that compromises become politically toxic.

According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, the 112th Congress, measured by votes taken, bills made into laws, nominees approved, is on pace to be one of the least productive sessions of Congress ever. Nothing is getting done. From January until the end of May, 16 piece of legislation have been signed into law — compared with 50 during that period in 2010. In 2007, when there was also an ideological split government (although the dynamic was different), 28 pieces of legislation became law. The Republican controlled House or Representatives passes conservative pieces of legislation, that is then stalled in the Democrat controlled Senate. Compromise seems unattainable.

So, what is the solution to our political problem? A public policy failure. For example, one of the reasons that the reforms needed o repair the financial system was not achieved was because the system did not collapse, it was propped up. There was therefore not a demand for real reform. If the debt ceiling negotiations fall through, then we could see a real public policy failure. If America defaulting on its debt obligations begins to affects people in a real way, then you might see a demand for political change. The other solution is a political failure. But, what would that look like?