MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Senator Burr told us 90,000 people have posted ideas for the Republican platform. For both parties, though, the process of choosing vice-presidential candidates is occurring under the cloak of extreme secrecy. Commentator David Weinberger thinks that process could be equally open to the public. He's at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and he says it's time for the grassroots to play a role in veep picking on the Web.
DAVID WEINBERGER: No one is exactly sure who first said that we're better off not knowing how either sausages or laws are made, but there's one particular sausage I think we all should see: how the vice presidential candidates are being picked.
Not the whole way. We don't need to see what's under every stone the vetting process overturns, and the committees doing the deciding absolutely need plenty of time behind closed doors to talk frankly, but we have this new connective medium, the Internet, that Senator Obama's campaign has been using with extraordinary effectiveness, and Senator McCain's own daughter, Meghan, has a blog.
So why not take advantage of the Net? Instead of relying on the media to convey news about the vice-presidential search, the candidates could use the Internet to enable a great public conversation. For example, they could create a place on their homepages where we the people can talk with one another, raise issues, and contribute ideas, with the selection committee members jumping in. They can argue, they can push back, but most of all they would engage.
They could also share some of the materials they're studying about the people on the list. Nothing private. Keep it positive. But here's this candidate's voting record and military record, or did you know this one has a medical degree? If the campaigns are worried about lewd name-calling, wild rumor-mongering or racist invective, they can put a moderator in place, maybe even a fact-checker.
And I'd love to see a blog by the search committee members themselves. It might be pretty tame, although at some point the campaigns might actually trust us to handle a conversation that admits the political calculations everyone knows are being made anyway: This person's too Southern or Northern, too weak or belligerent, too young or old or comes from a state we don't care about, or is just funny-looking.
The one thing I would not do is put up a place where we can vote. This is a more nuanced decision than a yes/no popularity vote, and besides, online polls are too easily manipulated. But letting us talk with one another and with the search committee and maybe even letting the candidates on the VP list into the conversation? This could only make the decision wiser and our democracy stronger. Why have an Internet if we're not going to use it?
BLOCK: David Weinberger is at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. You can read about other possible VP choices for John McCain and Barack Obama at NPR.org.
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