30 January 2010

Question Time: It Wasn't a Lecture

From the victory lap liberal bloggers have been taking Friday and into the weekend, you'd think President Obama smite the House Republican caucus with a mighty staff, parted the Red Sea, and and set his people free or something.

I'm really pleased with how Friday's meeting between the President and the House GOP went, broadcast live on all the major cable news networks - but really not because of some perceived political outcome. I'm pleased because this represents a first of sorts in our political discourse - A televised discussion between opposing political parties, without the rigid conditions of pre-negotiated debate rules that essentially rule out the possibility of candid exchanges. The discussions have always taken place - I've been in the room for my share of them - but the presence of the cameras was a first.

Frankly, the presence of the cameras also had its drawbacks - there were a lot of pre-packaged talking points thrown into those questions and answers.

It's been compared to "Question Time" in the UK (it actually happens in many countries with parliamentary governments) and I've heard people ask "why don't we have that here?" The real reason we don't have Question Time is simple - we separate the legislature from the executive in this country, so there's no pre-scheduled time the head of the government is regularly available.

That said, it seems perfectly appropriate that people would want more of this. I'm fairly confident the White House would love to do it again, especially if Socratic format is maintained. This may sound goofy, but I'd like to see a series of "un-conferences" of legislators, fully televised. I'd only ask one condition of the participants - you're not allowed to use anything from the sessions in a political ad. That might encourage more candor and fewer canned questions and answers.

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