Sunday, September 28, 2008

Posting Financial Bailout Bill Online Big Step for Democracy

I just saw House Speaker Nancy Pelosi discuss some of the details of the Wall Street bailout bill - the one that most people think Senate and House Democrats and Senate Republicans will approve, but some House Republicans may not - and announce that the bill is available for everyone's scrutiny, the American people and well as elected Representatives and Senators, on the Web.

I want to take a moment to record the importance of posting this legislation on the Web. Regardless of what we may think of the bill - I think it's necessary to help the American people, to keep unemployment from burgeoning, etc - we are certainly taking a very significant step in democracy when such important, controversial, urgent legislation is so swiftly placed online for lawmakers and everyone else to see. (Bills are of course posted online all the time - but not with this speed, as they are almost literally being voted upon.)

Democracy has been intimately tied to modes of communication and dissemination of information ever since ancient Athens, and the view of its leaders that the best size for a direct democracy was no larger than the number of people who could gather in a stadium and hear a speaker, and each other speak. Our representative democracy in America was clearly created with newspapers as a bedrock - the reason that Jefferson thought a First Amendment and freedom of the press was so crucial.

Ever since the 1980s and the dawn of online communication, I and other media theorists have been urging that the Internet play a more crucial role in our democratic process. (See my The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution and Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium.) Someday, we may well decide to have more of our decisions - such as this very bailout legislation - voted up or down by the people, via computer, not our representatives.

But in the meantime, the immediate putting of important legislation online for everyone to see is a big step in the right direction. The financial crisis is not good for America. But the placement of legislation that seeks to provide a remedy online for all to see certainly is.

PS - The bill is at - but you may have trouble getting on the website to see it, since the site is being flooded with viewers. Whether in-person or online, congestion is always a problem.
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