Last month while Barney Frank was having another whack at the personal freedom piñata, introducing his second bill in as many years to make Internet gambling the law of the land, the Poker Players Alliance was boasting of its success in rallying the troops around an invitation the Obama administration extended to the nation for its views on policy priorities. - “Boost America’s Economy with Legal Online Poker” came in at No. 11.
“Clearly, the citizens are talking and Congress needs to start listening,” said John Pappas, the PPA’s executive director.
Actually, the results were considerably less impressive than Pappas’ conclusion warrants. The exercise itself, on the other hand, was supremely interesting, not least because the responses bore only the slightest resemblance to what you might have expected.
To mark the official close of its transition to power, the administration’s Office of Public Liaison hit upon the laudable idea of using the transition Web site, change.gov., to ask ordinary Americans what they think the government ought to be doing. The results, compiled in a “Citizen’s Briefing Book” were released last month.
This was wide open - participants were invited to log on and submit their ideas in their own words and vote on them - 125,000 did, which is not an especially impressive number; yet for such a small group, relatively speaking, the number of ideas they came up with were astonishingly large, 44,000, and as a result so was the number of votes, 1.4 million.
The ideas were grouped into nine categories (“Economy, Education, Foreign Policy, Health Care, Technology” and the like), and for the sake of ranking them each concurring vote was awarded 10 points.
Actually there were 10 categories, the 10th being “Additional Issues,” a catch-all for the ideas that didn’t quite fit into any of the others. I mention this because interestingly enough this was the category that contained the most popular of the 44,000 ideas by far - “Ending Marijuana Prohibition,” which scored 92,970 points.
“Commit to becoming the ‘Greenest’ country n the world” was second with 70,470 points, followed by the cannabis thing again (“Stop using federal resources to undermine states’ medical marijuana laws”), and “Introduction of age appropriate sex education” in schools. Rounding out the top five: “Bullet Trains and Light Rail”.
Some other big vote-getters: “Permanent closure of all Torture facilities” (61,250), “Revoke the George W. Bush tax cuts for the top 1%” (57,080) and “Get the Insurance Companies out of Health Care” (55,080).
This is the kind of stuff the celebrity extremists use to make all the Red State proles crazy.
So what does it say about Internet poker that it ranked lower than “Bring Back the Constitution” and “Revoke the Tax Exempt Status of the Church of Scientology” as a national priority? Poker scored 46,890 points, which means that at most 4,689 of the 125,000 participants agreed with legalizing it: that’s less than 4 percent. And probably it was less than that, assuming most participants voted for more than one idea. Mathematically speaking, it could have been as few as 469. Something’s not adding up, John.
What’s refreshing about all this, though, is what it says about Americans. They are in reality far more interesting and thoughtful than that portrait of an unimaginative, suffocatingly conformist and rather silly people their televisions reflect back at them every night. One hesitates to say liberal because as a Web exercise the views probably skewed to the younger end of the population. Let’s say heterogeneous then.
“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” So Churchill famously said after winning the war and then promptly getting tossed out of office.
Or as those of us who were lucky to have missed out on the bloodshed might put it: “It’s sweet, even if it at times it can be a little dumb.”