Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the second ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate leadership, has opened the virtual doors of law writing to Internet citizens. This is a compelling idea as the Internet continues to find ways to democratize information and support the flattening of the political process in our country.
The senator writes in OpenLeft.com, the new project hosting this:
"Today I'm writing to invite you to participate in an experiment--an interactive approach to drafting legislation on one of the most significant public policy questions today: What should be America's national broadband strategy?"
One of the new Web site's leaders describes the idea of online legislation this way:
"Legislating is often known as a sausage factory, or a contest of interests done in private...a lot of the negative impressions of our lawmaking bodies comes from the secrecy of the process. With the Internet, we can put everyone and every lobbyist on a level playing field, and have a genuinely open contest of ideas."
It's doubtful that the Web will put every citizen on a level-playing field with the legions of professional congressional staff whose job is to study an issue and craft legislation with their elected bosses. It's doubtful, actually, that we would want avocation to play an equal role with vocation in this arena. It's also difficult to see how the thousands of full-time lobbyists in D.C., many of whom represent very powerful and well-funded corporations, will be outdone by part-time online activists.
Yet, even if this OpenLeft effort does not create equality, opening up the legislative process even a little bit can make a difference in D.C.
Happily, the Internet, as the CNN/YouTube debates demonstrate, continues to provide new tools for Americans to do politics in the most old-fashioned way--by participating.