Pros and Cons of a Presidential 'Question Time'

Bloggers of all stripes pound the table for more unscripted debates

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After rave reviews of President Obama's unscripted back-and-forth with House Republicans last Friday, enthusiastic bloggers have decided to make it official: they're petitioning for a regular "Question Time" to keep the candid debates coming.  But is it wise to try to replicate last week's spontaneity on a regular basis? The impressive roster of both conservative and liberal bloggers signing the petition say yes. Others aren't so sure.

  • Join Us! Politics Daily's David Corn is a bit giddy about the bipartisan blogging effort: "It's hard to imagine all of us agreeing on anything (except perhaps John Edwards' future in politics)," he writes. "But we had an idea that transcends ideology--and cable-talk squabbling and blogosphere bickering." He wants readers to know they are not "naive,"and realize a regular Question Time could become a"canned replay of pre-existing spin." Nevertheless, he sees "value" in "calling on our elected representatives to show us their best stuff on a regular basis."
  • Everyone Wins, urges conservative Ed Morrissey, another co-signer of the petition. Last week, "Obama got a chance to look presidential and to get away from scripted responses. His presence there forced the media to cover the substantial policy proposals from the GOP caucus, coverage that had been all but nonexistent before now. "
  • God Save the Queen? The "Question Time" idea is modeled on "Prime Minister's Questions," Tim Cavanaugh reminds us. This ritual  grew up in a totally different governmental system. Instead of creating a new institution in the U.S. to do nothing in particular--"nobody came away from the q&a with any new information or insight into the Health Care Reform debate, or the stimulus, or any other topic other than the loveliness of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's family," argues Cavanaugh--why not simply add it to the State of the Union? "There's nothing in the Constitution saying that the president can't field questions during the ... address." He's all for improving the current SOTU format.
  • And It Doesn't Even Really Work in the U.K., Either The Awl's Alex Balk points out that Question Time is "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."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.