The prevailing opinion in Washington is that President Obama's debate last week with the House Republicans was a big success. Whether you are an E.J. Dionne liberal ("The Q&A was a smash success, and we need many more") or a Charles Krauthammer conservative ("I do think it should be something we ought to consider institutionalizing"), you probably enjoyed the opportunity to watch the president and his congressional opponents go at it in a civil manner. I did too!
The latest response to the Baltimore encounter is a bipartisan petition to hold such sessions regularly. Signatories run the gamut from Jane Hamsher to Ed Morrissey. Here's the pitch:
This was one of the best national political debates in many years. Citizens who watched the event were impressed, by many accounts. Journalists and commentators immediately responded by continuing the conversation of the ideas put forward by the president and his opponents — even the cable news cycle was disrupted for a day.
America could use more of this — an unfettered and public airing of political differences by our elected representatives. So we 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.
The White House seems eager to repeat the Baltimore experience with the Senate Republicans. But before we go about institutionalizing an American version of question time, let's consider a few things:
(1) America is not a parliamentary democracy. The president is half-king, half prime-minister. He is separate from and coequal to the Congress. The Constitution stipulates only that he make an annual report to the Congress. He does not have to make an overly long televised speech that serves to buck up partisans and set the agenda for the year. He does not have to regularly submit to questions from his opponents. Why?