White House solicits online petitions to shape policy

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

White House officials says they are opening the White House website to supervised petition drives.

The new “We The People” feature on the site is intended to rally President Barack Obama’s supporters, and was promoted Thrsday by Macon Philips, the White House’s chief of new media.

Once it is operational, the feature will complement the president’s increased campaign-trail efforts to energize his dispirited base, and also to leverage public opinion to help Obama win political disputes with the Republican House majority.

Petitions will be posted on the White House site if they include at least 150 signatures, Phillips said. If 5,000 people then add their names to the petition, “a group of White House policy officials … will review it, make sure if gets to the right people in the Obama administration, and craft an official response,” Phillips said in a video announcement.

Phillips also said he used the petition feature to solicit the names and email addreses of prospective supporters. “Sign up so that you’re the first to know when it is live,” he said.

However, those emails can’t be directly shared with Obama’s 2012 campaign, because they are collected via a government website. Obama’s campaign is a nongovernmental private sector organization.

There’s plenty of evidence that Obama’s base is losing enthusiasm. That’s politically dangerous, because it will lower turnout in 2012 and could tip a few state tallies into the GOP column.

For example, Obama’s approval percentages have dropped into the thirties, while support from core sectors of his base, including Hispanic and single women, have fallen into the forties.

The demoralization is also visible on the president’s campaign’s website, where supporters are complaining about the scheduling of Obama’s pending economic speech during a joint session of Congress. On Wednesday Obama announced he would speak on Sept. 7, but rescheduled the event to Sept. 8 after House Speaker John Boehner refused on the basis of scheduling problems.

“Is someone willing to donate a spine to Obama?” one online commenter asked on BarackObama.com. “Even if from a dead relative. Yesterday, he again disgraced the office of the President.”

“Acquiescing [to the GOP delay] in this particular case, for any reason, undermines not only your office but also your message,” wrote another commenter. “At least try to make us believe you can and will deliver.”

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