RNC Launches New Online Platform Discussion Site
By Jose Antonio Vargas
The Grand Old Party is morphing into the Grand New Party, technologically speaking, and opening up the online flood gates.
Today, the Republican National Committee launches GOPPlatform2008.com, a site that allows anyone with an Internet connection to send their thoughts on the party's platform via text or video in the months leading up to the convention in September.
In a 50-second video introduction, RNC Chairman Mike Duncan says: "This Web site is really about you -- your ideas, your issues, and most important of all, your aspirations." You don't have to be a Republican to participate, and a staff will screen out submissions deemed distasteful and vulgar. But officials said that the screening process doesn't mean there won't be "plenty of debate" on the issues. "There are going to be some things that will make us uncomfortable," Duncan readily admitted in an interview last night.
The site lists seven platform issues: "Accountablity In Education"; "Energy & Gas Prices"; "Health Care Reform"; "Jobs & Economic Growth"; "Judicial Nominations"; "National Security"; and "Protecting American Values."
But as Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), chairman of the Republican Platform Committee, pointed out: "These platform issues aren't the only issues out there. Still, we had to start somewhere. The strength of this new site is, people can suggest and add which issues we should focus on. We can move, we can change, we can adapt."
Added Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), co-chairman of the platform committee: "Is what we're doing revolutionary from a technological standpoint? No. Are we the first one to use technology to open up the platform process to the entire population? Yeah."
The site has been in the works for two months, said Cyrus Krohn, the RNC's eCampaign Director, and its kick-off was timed for maximum effect. Three days ago, the Democratic National Committee announced that it will hold meetings in all 50 states to involve voters in developing the party's platform. Voters can go to Sen. Barack Obama's site to sign up to host one of the meetings, scheduled for July 19 to 27. But the Republican's platform site, in contrast, allows "anyone from anywhere" to engage with our platform," McCarthy said. Compared to what the Democrats are doing, McCarthy said, "ours is a leap forward."
That's not just spin. The Trail took a few moments to navigate the new site, which is cleanly designed and easy to scan. Users can participate in issue polls -- and add a widget to their Web pages that updates in real-time with the top issues being discussed. Users can also add Republican Platform Committee application to their Facebook profiles, and there is a "Send to Friends" button that allows users to invite others to submit their ideas. All the while, they can read other people's submissions and participate in discussion forums created on Google Groups.
"We hope that this process will guarantee the greatest amount of public input into any platform in American history!" reads the introduction on the site's homepage.
That is an awfully ambitious goal, especially for a party that hasn't been perceived online as being transparent and open.
"We have been more transparent and open than people have given us credit for," said Erick Erickson, one of the founders of the popular conservative blog RedState.com.
Whatever the perception, there's no closing the floodgates now. Everyone will be watching -- Republican and Democrat -- to see just how well the senior officials at the GOP listen to the online masses. On the Web, especially the political Web, what matters more than building a site is how you really use it.
This is one in a series of online columns on our growing "clickocracy," in which we are one nation under Google, with e-mail and video for all. Please send suggestions, comments and tips to vargasj-at-washpost-dot-com.
Posted at 9:15 AM ET on Jul 11, 2008
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