How Internet Is Ruining Representative Government (fwd)

This is from a First Amendment list. Cokie Roberts, in a column, complains
that the Internet will ruin representative democracy. Of course, I should
point out that she comes from a family full of Louisiana politicians, so
maybe she's got a vested interest -- as the response at the bottom points
out. But does she have a valid point? I don't think so, but then again, I
believe in full access to public information and I've seen firsthand what
Louisiana politicians are capable of.


>Forwarded for educational purposes only.
>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>*Date: Fri, 11 Apr 1997 17:49:03 -0400 (EDT)
>*From: James Love <love@tap.org>
>*To: Multiple recipients of list <info-policy-notes@essential.org>
>*Subject: Cokie Roberts on How Internet Is Ruining Representative Government
>This is a real syndicated column by Cokie Roberts.  It is not a spoof.
>Cokie interviewed me about how the Internet is changing the relationship
>between citizens and government agencies, after she read about the FTC's
>decision to take email comments on the Staples merger.  She then wrote
>this astonishing column with her husband, Steven Roberts.  At the end of
>Cokie's column is a letter to the editor sent by Susan Ashdown, a reader
>of the Salt Lake Tribune, which is one of newspapers which ran the column.
>Since Susan brought this to my attention, I am including her letter.
>Cokie and Steven Roberts column, and Susan's letter to the editor, are
>redistributed with permission.  Jamie Love (love@tap.org, 202.387.8030
>                                  http://www.cptech.org
>Salt Lake Tribune, April 5, 1997, Page A-11
>Internet Could Become a Threat To Representative Government
>Cokie Roberts and Steven Roberts
>United Features
>Cyber seduction, cult by computer, kids caught in an indecent web!  The
>headlines have been scary of late as we learn more about the dangers of
>the brave new world of the Internet.
>To be sure, the experts keep assuring us that the World Wide Web does more
>good than harm-that it can help young people find facts, police officers
>hunt down clues, and citizens communicate with their government.
>"If you're on-line, you're inside the Beltway," in the opinion of Graeme
>Browning, author of the book Electronic Democracy, which argues that the
>Internet is making individuals more politically powerful.  Sounds good,
>but is it?
>For many parents, the idea of yet another influence in their children's
>lives over which they have no control is threatening.  The horrible
>thought that, in the privacy of your own home, your child could be the
>target of some sick predator was frightening enough.  Now, since reading
>the news recently, the fear of recruitment to some kooky cult must be
>added to the list of computer concerns.
>Responding to those worries, Congress passed the Computer Decency Act,
>aimed at blocking pornography on the Internet.  The law was immediately
>challenged as an unconstitutional abridgement of free speech, and last
>month the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case.  In their
>questions the justices revealed the same wide-eyed wonder we feel when
>hearing about the latest form of communication.  What is this thing
>anyway?  How does it work and what can it do?
>One thing it clearly can do is bring citizens more into the
>decision-making processes of government.  That came home to us recently
>when we heard that the Federal Trade Commission was accepting electronic
>mail on the question of whether Office Depot stores should be allowed to
>merge with Staples.  The FTC has so far received thousands of comments and
>a spokeswoman says that, although the merger decision won't be based on
>what the agency hears from the public, she thinks the e-mail is a good
>idea.  The FTC decided to do it, she admitted, because of pressure from
>the Consumer Project on Technology.
>"The Internet is the best thing in my lifetime for grassroots organizing,"
>exults the Project's director, Jamie Love.  He's managed to use the system
>to influence various government agencies, and to educate the public.  Love
>argues that this type of organization and communication cuts through the
>special interest politics that he believes rules Washington.  "I think
>there's a general sense that people who can hire a guy and game the system
>have a leg up," says Love.
>Somewhere between 250,000 to 350,000 people check into the site dealing
>with congressional activities every day.  And then many of these people
>get in touch with their representatives, by e-mail, of course.
>They also get in touch with each other on public policy issues.  According
>to Love, it's like an electronic town meeting.  That analogy makes our
>blood run cold.  Remember, that was Ross Perot's big idea.  Let's just all
>get together, via computer, and let the politicians know what we want, so
>then they will do it!  No more pandering to the big contributors, no more
>deals between members, just the voice of the people will be heard!
>We hear that and shudder.  To us it sounds like no more deliberation, no
>more consideration of an issue over a long period of time, no more
>balancing of regional and ethnic interests, no more protection of minority
>The Founders were clear in their advocacy of representative democracy as
>opposed to direct democracy.  In The Federalist, James Madison asserted
>that "the public voice pronounced by the representatives of the people
>will be more consonant to the public good than if announced by the people
>themselves convened for that purpose."
>But representative government is under attack.  "We've been electing
>people for years and never been in worse shape and felt more
>disconnected," says Barbara Vincent of the National Referendum Movement.
>Her organization wants to put initiatives and referenda on the ballots of
>every state so that the people can decide "the really important issues"
>while Congress can handle "everyday affairs."  And Ms. Vincent has public
>opinion on her side.  In a bipartisan poll, fully three-quarters of the
>people said they favored putting national issues on ballots across the
>Computers could make that possible.  And, if we're not careful, they
>might.  Jamie Love is right that people think the game is fixed, and
>Barbara Vincent is right that the voters feel disconnected.  The best
>thing the lawmakers can do to fix that is to call a halt to the money
>chase, to show constituents that they count.  If that doesn't happen,
>congress could eventually find its very existence threatened, thanks to
>the Internet.  And that would make the current debate over pornography
>seem like small potatoes.
>Date: Fri, 11 Apr 1997 14:31:21 -0600
>From: Sue Ashdown <zero@xmission.com>
>To the Editors of the Salt Lake Tribune & United Features:
>        Now I've heard everything.  The Internet is nothing but a
>cyber-sewer, full of smut, cults, and now an even greater danger: easy
>access to government officials.  Cokie Roberts and her husband say their
>"blood runs cold" at the idea of citizens emailing their opinions directly
>to the Federal Government instead of channeling them through their
>"representatives".  They argue that it would mean the end of reasoned
>consideration of a variety of views, and worse, it might bring us closer
>to direct instead of representative democracy - not what the Founding
>Fathers intended. (The Founders weren't too keen on emancipation either,
>but never mind.)
>        Talk about the end of reason.  I fail to see how the direct
>expression of public opinion logically leads to the destruction of careful
>deliberation.  Perot wasn't my choice for President, but the mere fact
>that "electronic town meetings" were his "big idea" does not automatically
>make them meritless.
>        Personally my blood runs cold when I think of the representative
>democracy Cokie has in mind.  Her brother, Tommy Boggs, of the Washington
>law firm Patton, Boggs & Blow made quite a name for himself as a lobbyist
>arguing strenuously on behalf of erstwhile Guatemalan dictators and death
>squad financiers in the 1980's and early 1990's.  If as the Roberts claim,
>a halt to the money chase is a far better solution to voter discontent
>than the airing of public opinion through the Internet, then presumably
>this means that Tommy's firm will find better uses for its generous cash
>donations to candidates across the political spectrum.  I can understand
>Cokie standing up for her brother's interests - I'd do the same for mine,
>who's done reasonably well as an Internet Service Provider, but at least
>I'd reveal my motives.
>        Sincerely,
>        Sue Ashdown
>        Salt Lake City, Utah

*       Joey Senat                                          *
*       Doctoral Student                                    *
*       School of Journalism & Mass Communication           *
*       University of North Carolina @ Chapel Hill          *
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