Demand Question Time

It’s not often that a proposal attracts enthusiastic support from David Corn, Katrina Vanden Heuval, and Grover Norquist. The proposal that our President appear before the opposition to give an accounting for himself at Question Time is one that does. It certainly should.

Last week President Obama and House Republicans held the best debate I’ve seen in years. For almost 90 minutes with the CSPAN cameras rolling, they went at things in a substantive and civil exchange. Republicans lobbed whatever questions they wished at the President. He was forced to provide informed and persuasive answers–and he did.

The contrast between that exchange and either the laundry-list conventions of the State of the Union address or the mostly-useless and canned candidate debates could not have been greater. I and many others immediately concluded: they should do this more often.

Regardless of your own political views, you should welcome the idea that the President regularly appear before the opposition for genuine give-and-take. Such a practice wouldn’t solve every problem of American democracy, but it would revitalize our public conversation in many ways.

It’s not often that a proposal attracts enthusiastic support from David Corn, Katrina Vanden Heuval, and Grover Norquist, among others. A petition is now floating, which will shortly be up and running. In the meanwhile, check out the Facebook page. Click on the petition, and sign it. And pass it on.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

6 thoughts on “Demand Question Time”

  1. I enjoyed it; I'm not sure how I feel about making it a regular occurrence.

    However if it were, I'm not sure why it would be limited to questioning by the opposition party; what about the President's party? On top of that, given the way the US government is structured, the President's opposition might be in charge of one or both houses of the legislature. So maybe the President should also be able to question the leadership of the opposition!

  2. Larry: Good point about not limiting questioning to the opposition party. In the British system, MP's from all parties get to question the Prime Minister.

    Part of Obama's problem is that people on the political left feel that Obama is ignoring them. If Obama were to engage with his critics on the left the same way we just saw him engage with Republicans, I think that would go a long way towards healing the divisions in the Democratic party.

  3. I concur with the sentiments, but an internet poll? Really? We all might as well stand on street corners with signs as it would be equally effective. There has got to be a better way to help push this cause.

  4. I like the idea, although to capture the full Question Time spirit we need the rest of the House/Senate to be cheering and booing to responses, like what I remember seeing on British Question Time.

    More seriously, though, this is a good idea. It might also help to deflate the increasingly "imperial" image that the Presidency is picking up.

  5. I thought it was fun. Instructive. Maybe even useful.

    I'm not sure how fun, instructive, or useful it would be on a regular basis.

    In any case, United States isn't the United Kingdom. Gingrich getting excited by watching the House of Commons on C-Span, imagining himself as Prime Minister, wasn't exactly good for our Republic. Do we move towards that system? OK, but then the Senate's power has to be about what Lords has. And we're not going to do that, even though the current make-up of the government is highly undemocratic with a small "d"… and as a result, also with a large "D".

    So I'd rather be a small "c" conservative here. Let's say this was a good use of the bully pulpit and leave it at that.

  6. Question Period in the British parliamentary system is often a zoo. In the Canadian version, the questions are always cooked up to embarrass the government, usually preceded by as lengthy a preamble of innuendo as the Speaker allows the questioner to get away with. The answers are almost always pre-packaged sound bites that may or may not respond to the question. Maybe the UK original is better, but I rather doubt it.

    So by all means suggest that the President should do this more often – though I agree entirely that he should do it with Democrats, in part for the reason mentioned – to reconcile with his liberal allies – and in part because segments of the Democratic party have been acting as his opposition for the past year.

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