American Question Time Is A Bad Idea

Pass, thanksIn the wake of President Obama’s appearance at the House Republican conference last week, a “politically diverse group of bloggers, commentators, techies and politicos” have organized “an online campaign, Demand Question Time, urging President Barack Obama and GOP congressional leaders to hold regular, televised conversations like the extraordinary exchange in Baltimore on Friday.”

What are they demanding?

[W]e call on President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader John Boehner to hold these sessions regularly – and allow them to be broadcast and webcast live and without commercial interruption, sponsorship or intermediaries. We also urge the President and the Republican Senate caucus to follow suit. And we ask the President and the House and Senate caucuses of his own party to consider mounting similar direct question-and-answer sessions. We will ask future Presidents and Congresses to do the same.

It’s a good idea unless you’ve seen how Question Times actually work in parliamentary democracies, where members of the governing parties ask self-serving softballs (e.g., “Do you agree with me that the American worker is the hardest worker in the world?”) designed to run out the clock, while the opposition party tosses up as many cheap shots as it can in hopes that something will stick. And even were the process to be modified so that it was simply the President and Republicans, what does it benefit the President to reward the opposition with a continuing platform from which they can repeatedly voice their disagreements without offering credible, concrete alternatives? I mean, doesn’t he already do that enough with the Senate’s Democratic caucus? Nobody wants to watch that.