Monday, November 07, 2005

Live Debate

For those of you who missed it last night, the debate on West Wing was a fantastic piece of television, and a fantastic piece of political theater.

Just to get the obligatories out of the way: Yes, I understand it was scripted. Yes, I understand it's entertainment.

That said, I thought it was more informative, instructive, and presidential, than any of the debates we've seen our glorious, hand-picked candidates soundbite their way through in the past 3 or 4 elections. I only hope that every high school civics class in the country uses that 1 hour of TV to show kids what debating, politics, and differing views of America are all about.

Speaking of high school, when I was that age I'd sit down to watch Questions with the Prime Minister when it was on. (And, yes, I recognize what that says about me.) But what a concept. A nationally televised, script-free dialogue between the head of the executive branch and his colleagues in the legislature.

Now imagine that in the US today. Yes, crying is allowed.

Sure, a week or two of Bush playing president to the cameras in the Senate might be entertaining, but beyond that, he'd be exposed for the uncurious, insufficiently informed, and dolorously unaware of the way the world is as compared to how he thinks it might be.

Almost none of the Democratic candidates in the last election would fare much better. We've created a political system that eschews substance in favor of what consitutes style. And even that is stretching it.

As though it was hard to tell from what I write here, I'm a bit of a romantic (when it comes to politics only) so I'm going to start the campaign right here, right now.

Questions with the President
A 30 to 45 minute weekly prime-time exchange between the President and the Senate. Democrats and Republicans are allowed to alternate questions, and who asks them is up to them. No topic is out-of-bounds. Live broadcast to PBS and C-Span.

Like every press conference, the flacks and pundits will spin it afterwards, but for a change, lets let the American people watch their political leaders engage in a dialogue about the issues of the day. It'd be a remarkable day for civic education in this country.


rambling barrister said...

Huzzah! I strongly agree with the idea. I don't believe the PM is legally required to have questions time, but precedence has made it "mandatory". When will we see a President step up and make that a precedence here?

I saw an interesting article some time back noting that the media has been traditionally serving that role in the U.S. However, since our current media 1.) are cut off from access to the President when they write something adverse, and 2.)are not given face time to see the president via press conferences or time on Air Force 1, the system has broken down.

alektra said...

I just think we should all move. Ok, I don't. But honestly? Do you really think that anyone would watch? It's not shiny and flashy enough for those who voted in the last election...

Chinahand said...

Alektra--maybe, maybe not. Over the course of four years a president would have to sit down with the Senate, say, 200 times. I think many people would watch it. And maybe they'd think an inarticulate President shouldn't hold the position. Or maybe they'd feel more comfortable with a President who speaks like many around the country. But at least we'd know. And could make the choice based on something other than soundbites.

Also, for those of us who believe that that articulate communication is something important to teach all people, it would let us know just how well/not our educational system was doing.

And like I said, I tend to be a bit idealistic.

tegwarrior said...

Ideally, the media handles that role in our political system. Ok, not ideally. But in the ideal of the media which the media has pounded and purported for itself (convenient, no?) handle our version of Question Time.

So bring on the press conferences, they say.

But there's a problem. Standing. We've all attempted to watch a press conference. The questioners ask long, rambling questions (in fairness, the questions are designed to pre-deflect the standard dodges and force a real answer). The President responds with the answer he wants to give(see the West Wing's Santos campaign focus on not answering the question asked, for example). Deny follow-ups. Move on.

Wouldn't the same thing happen in the well of the Senate?

Question Time works in Parliament because the PM is a member of the body- and in a moment his government could fall if he fails to honor and respect his fellow ministers (now, how's that for a romanticized ideal).

In this country, not only do the media not have the stature to demand answers from the President but the Senate doesn't either. Sad.