Republicans Using the Internet to Speak Out and Listen Up

House Republicans, eager to prove that they are not the same party that got tossed out of power in 2006, launched their “America Speaking Out” communications initiative at a Tuesday morning press conference in the unofficial home of the First Amendment, the Newseum in Washington, DC. They say the program is a way for the minority party to interact directly with the American people. The centerpiece of the outreach effort is the website AmericaSpeakingOut.com, which has a “state-of-the-art” forum in which citizens can create a profile to propose and discuss new policy ideas.

“All across America people are speaking out, but they don’t see Washington Democrats listening to them,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. He said the website would be a place where Republicans would listen to the ideas of the American people.

However, despite that pledge to listen to the American people, the website declares a set of explicitly defined core Republican maxims at the bottom of the home page, and the debate will center around those ideas. “This is not a political party in search of principles or a listening tour,” said House Republican Conference Chair Mike Pence, R-Ind., “We know what we believe.”

To keep the discussion civil, the website employs a filter to ensure that profanity and other slurs do not appear in the discussion forum. It also has a staff that will screen posts for ad hominem attacks.

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., one of the chief architects of the site, added that in order to alleviate the concerns of privacy advocates, who worry about the security of the personal data used to create a user profile, the Republican leadership would own the list of names and information. He said this information would not be sold to political organizations or marketers.

Critics charge that the website, paid for with taxpayer funds, serves mainly as a campaign tool. Republicans say that the website is paid for through their budget and does not require any additional funds. “Only in Washington would you get in trouble for trying to let the people have more choice in their government,” said Chief Deputy Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy of California.

House Republicans were evasive on whether the ideas gathered on the site would lead to another “Contract with America,” the document created by former Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and others to take back the House in 1994. They also did not say if the website would continue after midterm elections in November.