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Political Twitter: "What Is It Good For?" Edition

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, March 4 2009

Twitter / John McCain: #2. $900,000 for fish mana ... 

For quite a few years, the idea that technology might meaningfully better politics and Washington was either ignored or casually mocked. And perhaps not surprisingly, those among us willing to believe that maybe this Internet thing might do some good assumed something of a fer-us-or-agin-us mentality. But in this era of Obama, the time has rather inarguably come to cast a more critical eye, asking things like "What's it good for?" and "Who's it helping?" and "Is it efficient?" and "Does it work?" What better place to start than with the golden tech of the moment, Twitter. In that spirit, a roundup of Twitter-related efforts happening on and around Capitol Hill -- and what they might mean.

The Tweets: House Education Committee Chairperson George Miller is using his @askgeorge account to round up public questions for tomorrow's health care summit at the White House with President Obama and HHS-designate Kathleen Sebelius. SO WHAT?: The goal, says a Miller spokesperson, is to give the public a voice in the debate. Miller's office says they're open to hearing from constituents and non-constituents alike. A duly elected representative is still the filter, sure, but participants would be engaging in far more representative democracy than if they were just casting a ballot every two years.

The Tweets: Senator John McCain is keeping up his irreverent Twitter parade against what he deems pork in the omnibus bill Congress is now considering, like "$7,100,000 for the conservation and recovery of endangered Hawaiian sea turtle populations" and "$900,000 for fish management - how does one manage a fish..." SO WHAT?: McCain's Senate-floor tweets formed the bulk of Maureen Dowd's column today, with the senator from Arizona cast in the role of Shakespearean defender of the public welfare. Not bad for a member whose anti-earmark rhetoric isn't exactly new material for the DC press.

The Tweets: Former Speaker and technologist Newt Gingrich has thrown his considerable energies of late into becoming master of all things Twitter. As something of a minister without a pulpit for Republicans, Twitter is one more channel through which he can spread his "Drill Here, Drill Now" message and Newt-y goodness. SO WHAT?: Liberal watchdogs Media Matters has had to add one more medium to its landscape. The group is taking Gingrich to task for tweeting: "Callista [his spouse] pointed out flying into santa barbara you can see the oil rigs off shore Ironically they have had no spill since 1969." You might be able to get away with Alanis Morissette-ian misuses of the word "ironic" on Twitter, but not factual errors. Media Matters pounced: "In fact, there were at least two oil spills reported in or near the Santa Barbara Channel in just the last few months."