WASHINGTON — On Dec. 7, what should every good American be doing? Joining friends and neighbors, debating issues and picking a suitable presidential candidate.
That's the vision for the National Presidential Caucus, the brainchild of some pioneering political pros from the Internet and their more traditional political scientist colleagues.
There'll be no delegates at stake, nothing officially sanctioned by state or party leaders. Just Americans using the Internet to organize local meetings, then getting together to think, talk, cajole and vote in living rooms, libraries and coffee shops across the country.
The idea has two goals:
"Come Feb. 5, two finalists will be chosen," said Myles Weissleder, a spokesman for the effort and a veteran of the Meetup.com phenomenon of the 2004 campaign. "This is nine months before the general election. That's a real rush to judgment. Anything we can do to increase deliberation and discussion prior to this rush to judgment is good."
Details are still being worked out - what time the caucuses will be and who'll be allowed to participate - but plans now call for Democrats and Republicans to have separate caucuses as well as "open" caucuses for independents and others. Several political scientists are involved to help set ground rules and study the results.
Participants are being urged to use established social-networking Web sites such as meetup.com, myspace.com and facebook.com to organize their sessions. There's also a dedicated YouTube channel.
The advent of the Internet as a political organizing tool makes the national caucus viable, said Carol Darr, the director of George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.
"What's happening with the Internet now is it's easy for the class of people who are politically interested but have nonpolitical real-world day jobs to get involved," said Darr, an adviser to the caucus. "This gives the activists a say while it still matters, while there's still time."
The results of the caucus will be publicly reported, with enough participants - organizers hope - to garner media attention.
Registration for the caucus and preliminary organization will start Sept. 4. There will be a preliminary caucus Oct. 26 to refine the rules and ensure that things go as planned.
Organizers say they're not sure how many participants to hope for. They point out that 5 million people participated in some sort of Web-organized political meeting in 2004, but say they'd be happy with "thousands" of individual meetings. And even if there's no official imprimatur, it's a useful exercise in democracy.
"People will be better educated and better connected with their neighbors," Weissleder said. "It's also a worthwhile straw poll."
ON THE WEB
For more information, go to National Caucus.