As computer programmer Chris Ashworth watched the debate over raising the nation's debt ceiling unfold this past weekend, the germ of a snarky idea entered his head: Why not ask people to make videos of themselves "slowly and sarcastically" applauding members of Congress?
"It seemed like a funny joke," said Ashworth, who posted the idea on the social networking site Twitter.
Within hours, as his comment began bouncing around the Internet, the Charles Village resident realized he was on to something. He registered a domain name — slowclapforcongress.com — and posted a video of himself, somber-faced, clapping slowly.
Soon others were posting videos, too.
"It clearly has struck a chord, and I think it's great that it's an outlet for people's frustrations," said Ashworth, who runs a Baltimore software development company called Figure 53.
Without bells or whistles — Ashworth described the site as "tape and string as far as technology goes" — the idea clearly tapped into the public's growing frustration with Washington. A USA TODAY/Gallup poll this week found that 46 percent of Americans disapproved of the debt ceiling agreement signed into law Tuesday by President Barack Obama.
The last-minute compromise called for $1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade — most of which will not be made right away — but it put off difficult choices about entitlement spending and new taxes. A bipartisan panel, which has yet to be seated, has been charged with addressing some of those broader questions by November.
On the site, disappointed-looking people stare wordlessly into the camera and raise their arms slowly to clap. Included in the mix are a dog named Cronkite, a baby named Lily and a person who, instead of clapping, simply brings his fingers together. One man pours himself a drink before starting to applaud.
"Dear Congress," the site reads. "For your leadership, your maturity, and your inspiring ability to perform the basic duties of your job. We applaud you."
The site is bipartisan, blaming both sides for the impasse.
Ashworth said he's thinking about whether the project has a future — and perhaps some greater purpose — once the consternation over the debt debacle quiets down. He said he has heard from other technology-savvy Baltimore residents who are interested in finding ways keep the site alive.
"It's not especially constructive, which I think is a reasonable criticism of it," said Ashworth, who posts each video manually. "It'd be cool if there was some way to put a more constructive slant on it."