Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2014

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OTHER VOICES:

We hear you, but the answer is ‘no’

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You can learn a lot from “We the People.”

Almost 6,500 folks want the Obama administration to ban the sale of shark products, for instance.

And varying numbers of Americans want the federal government to promote pet homelessness prevention efforts but not water fluoridation; abolish the war on drugs as well as the Transportation Security Administration; forgive student loan debt to stimulate the economy; even “redress wrongs against the Chagossians,” who are displaced former inhabitants of an Indian Ocean archipelago that’s a British sovereignty.

Created in 2001 by the White House, the “We the People” website has drawn petitions for redress of grievances real and imagined, for promotion of causes popular and obscure, for federal officials to act in areas they control along with those over which they have little or no jurisdiction.

The White House says petitions on combating online piracy, digitizing federal records and cracking down on commercial breeders have spurred discussion among policymakers.

But the entertainment value is in the responses.

A White House response is promised on petitions that attract 25,000 or more signatures. But some of the 96 responses posted as of this week were to petitions that fell short of that threshold (like the 12,240 people who wanted the White House beer recipe — and got both the honey porter and the honey ale).

Some of the petitions are super-serious, and the responses are just as somber: the 32 petitions seeking gun control reforms, for example, or the one objecting to Catholic employers having to cover contraceptives under their workers’ insurance plans.

Some responses are exercises in diplomacy.

To the 29,189 people who demanded to “Get Rush Limbaugh off Armed Forces Radio NOW!”, the answer was, “AFN does not censor content, and we believe it is important that service members have access to a variety of viewpoints.”

The 32,602 seeking removal of “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” from our money, were told that President Obama supports keeping both: “Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation — context matters.”

Most of the responses basically say “no,” some more eloquently than others.

“Democracy can be noisy and controversial. And that’s a good thing,” Jon Carson, director of the Office of Public Engagement, wrote to the tens of thousands, including those from Texas, who petitioned for secession — and also to those seeking to deport the would-be secessionists. “But as much as we value a healthy debate, we don’t let that debate tear us apart.”

The founders, he said, enshrined in the Constitution “the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot. ... But they did not provide a right to walk away from it.”

A response to a petition seeking government acknowledgement that aliens have contacted humans was headlined, “Searching for ET, but no evidence yet.”

And the “no” to building a Death Star says, among other reasons, that “the administration does not support blowing up planets.”

Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch at the Office of Management and Budget, wrote: “We don’t have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a president who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke’s arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.”

Whoever wrote the response titled “The short answer is no, but keep reading” had to know it would intrigue readers. It’s to a request that the White House impeach Obama.

The Constitution gives the president plenty of powers, but that’s not one of them.

Linda P. Campbell is a columnist and editorial writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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