Anyone with an agenda and 25,000 signatures can elicit an official response from the White House's "We the People" website. This being the internet and all, requests naturally tilt toward the edges: A petition for President Obama's impeachment, federally legalized marijuana, secession appeals, and a nationalized Twinkie industry.
Over the weekend, the White House indulged Star Wars fans by issuing an official response to a popular request — that the U.S. government begin construction on a Death Star to be completed by 2016. Total signatures amassed: 34,435.
In a post titled "This isn't the petition response you're looking for," Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, outlines a few reasons why construction of a Death Star simply isn't in the best interest of the country. A few of his points:
1. The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
2. The administration does not support blowing up planets.
3. Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that could be exploited by a one-man starship?
Shawcross ends with a call for star-gazing youngsters "to pursue a career in science, technology, or math-related field" to ensure the United States' position as a space leader. "Remember," he concludes, "the Death Star's power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force."
Not only is the whole thing "funny and compelling," says John Timmer at Ars Technica, but as a shining piece of PR it establishes "Obama's cultural credentials as a science and sci-fi enthusiast." You can tell it's a "super-geeky labor of love," says Gregory Ferenstein at TechCrunch. "I love the internet so much."
Not everyone is impressed by the White House's geek-play, however. Consider this from Daily Caller contributor George Scoville:
Serious question (h/t @bryanpick): if a Republican president had responded to the Death Star petition like that, would the media still gush?
— George Scoville (@stackiii) January 12, 2013
Read Shawcross' entire response here.