Sunday, November 9, 2008

Post-Election Thoughts

Believe it or not, I do have some good project ideas related to this recent election that I'd like to share. I doubt I'll get to doing much with them myself, but I'd like to encourage all other web development/policy nerds to look into them whenever they get the chance.

The long-and-short of it is that both Presidential candidates were instrumental, as Senators and elsewhere in their careers, in bringing forth government transparency initiatives that are useful to bloggers and journalists. Surprisingly, neither campaign was up front about this (I was very disappointed in both campaigns this election for not discussing the candidates' records enough). Somewhere along the way, however, both initiatives picked up API's of use to us web programming nerds.

I'm not new to the world of trying to link to policy data online. I've been frustrated by the THOMAS Library of Congress website on several occasions.

I only recently found out that one of the website ideas Obama has been championing is already available at - this is particularly noteworthy as a certain nutcase on the Republican ticket claimed that she would start this idea, in spite of the fact that the law mandating this passed in 2006. Bloggers and web developers, take a look at that API - we could seriously inform people about up-to-the-minute facts on US spending directly on our websites (with server-side code, of course - cross-site scripting is now blocked by most modern browsers). The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act was passed in 2006 and deployment quickly sped along, thanks to subcontracting with OMB Watch, details at the Wikipedia link above.

McCain smartly co-sponsored that as a Senator as well (it's just a great bill, and I like to think everyone can back legislation like that, even if not everyone can write it). More noteworthy, though, is his involvement as one of the 40 national leaders co-founding Project Vote Smart back in 1992. The non-partisan, non-profit group is dedicated to getting out the facts about candidates' stances on a variety of major issues. There is now an API in open beta and a start at providing RSS support as well.

I'd like to see bloggers everywhere take the initiative and work these resources into their sites. I suspect that both sites (and many other similar sites) will expand the resources available as the demand for them is shown. Again, I'm a bit too busy to take this up as a hobby right now, but I think other web developers should have at it for their political blogs and websites (and of course, I could probably find time if appropriately compensated :) ).

...and on a more personal note, I hope I enjoy my "win" on the general Presidential election more than I enjoyed my "win" during the Republican primary. I'm still feeling a bit disillusioned about how things played out these past few months, and I really hope that the next few years of an Obama administration are much more serious than anything I saw during this election. I also find this bittersweet - as this post shows, I really respected both of these guys as Senators, and I think that there isn't a way to truly replace Obama as a Senator - it's the Senate's loss, in a way. I do still hope to get more involved as a blogger, but it still doesn't look likely that I will. Still, the transparency initiatives are very promising for letting everybody get more involved, and looks like a decent start on making the office of the President more transparent as well (although it looks like his stance on community service has changed since the election - is that an error from a lower-level staffer, or is that intentional?)

EDIT: Either that "mandatory community service" bit was a mistake or we have a cover-up conspiracy here (choose depending on your political persuasion): has been updated to remove the bizarre policy I asked about at the end of that last paragraph. I'd like to think that it was removed BECAUSE of people like me (but with more clout) pointing out that it was a bad idea...but somehow I doubt that that error is an issue we'll ever hear revisited. In any case, the stance I liked during the campaign is now what's listed on the website.

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