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Question Time
February 5, 2010 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Demand Question Time is a cross-partisan attempt in the US to make sessions like the remarkable give and take between President Obama and House Republicans of January 29th, which DQT calls "riveting and educational... substantive, civil and candid" a regular feature of American political discourse, like its parliamentary counterpart. As the petition's profile grows, signer David Corn explains "Why Question Time Is Right for Obama, House GOPers and Washington," and Peggy Noonan counters that "Question Time Isn't the Answer."
posted by ocherdraco (50 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nate Silver supports it therefore you should too.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:39 AM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


> In the age of terror, America needs sober, bipartisan leadership.

Like Bush and Cheney? Peggy Noonan's the best.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:43 AM on February 5, 2010


You can't convince me Peggy Noonan isn't Lucille Bluth under an assumed name.
posted by The Whelk at 10:44 AM on February 5, 2010 [16 favorites]


You have to love Peggy Noonan:
America doesn't need to be told that something bad will happen. America needs to be told what is being done, what will be done and what can be done, how together we'll get through it, what information and attitude to take into the future. They don't need to be made anxious, they need to be recruited into a common endeavor.
Authoritarian to the end. She doesn't think that we Americans can handle debate; just tell us that big daddy is going to handle everything and let us go back to sleep.
posted by octothorpe at 10:45 AM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


In the age of terror, America needs sober, bipartisan leadership.

Like Bush and Cheney?


So Noonan's argument is that Bush is on the wagon...?
posted by shakespeherian at 10:46 AM on February 5, 2010


It was riveting and candid because it was a surprise. The GOP thought that Obama would be easy pickings without a teleprompter, and that they would humiliate him. He wasn't, and the result was a big loss for the GOP.

The *real* answer is a press that actually fact checks and doesn't kowtow to politicians when they lie to them. Alas, the press is owned by republicans, so that won't happen either.

But if you just try to do this again, both parties will perfect tactics to make themselves look good, the other look bad, and we'll end up with the same vapid debates that we have in presidential elections.
posted by eriko at 10:47 AM on February 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


> Authoritarian to the end. She doesn't think that we Americans can handle debate; just tell us that big daddy is going to handle everything and let us go back to sleep.

Sometimes I can't help but read her columns in Mr. Rogers' voice.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:48 AM on February 5, 2010


I signed. Great idea.
posted by bearwife at 10:48 AM on February 5, 2010


All I need to know is that Peggy Noonan is against it. It must be a good idea.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:49 AM on February 5, 2010 [13 favorites]


Peggy Noonan counters that "Question Time Isn't the Answer."

The problem is that Noonan's argument is premised on two points: that the American version of Question Time will be as rowdy as that of the UK, and that the rowdiness is a design flaw. On the first point, if the Baltimore session is the basis for how future sessions are to be conducted, her premise fails. On the second point, the rowdiness is not problematic for the UK because its politicians are smart enough to think on their feet. That same intelligence is not necessarily given in the United States, when 60% of Republicans think the earth was created ten thousand years ago and believe in creationism.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:51 AM on February 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


It was riveting and candid because it was a surprise.

Exactly. If this was a weekly or monthly thing, expect the same sort of political posturing that characterizes all of the successful Republican spin machine.

Look, we all love the British Parliament's Question Time, but in that case the PM is essentially beholden to the Parliament. The President is not beholden to the Congress. He is not (technically) the leader of one party or in opposition to the other.

The *real* answer is a press that actually fact checks and doesn't kowtow to politicians when they lie to them.

Amen.
posted by muddgirl at 10:53 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Peggy Noonan just doesn't like Question Time because it doesn't involve her.
posted by shmegegge at 10:54 AM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Republicans think the earth was created ten thousand years ago and believe in creationism.

It would be maybe more disturbing if they thought the earth was creation ten thousand years ago but still believed in evolution.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:54 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why does anyone still take these pundits seriously? Have they ever been right about anything?
posted by 1adam12 at 10:55 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


But if you just try to do this again, both parties will perfect tactics to make themselves look good, the other look bad, and we'll end up with the same vapid debates that we have in presidential elections.

This. It would devolve into the same content-free soundbite fest before you could say "Bob's your uncle". The Rs got caught unawares only because it was a one-time-only event, and the Ds should be glad to have scored a point at all.
posted by briank at 10:58 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


we'll end up with the same vapid debates that we have in presidential elections.

Depends on format. A lot of what makes the debates so vapid is the short-answer format, ten minutes then a five minute rebuttal or whatever. It's just barely enough time to go over your talking points.

An unmoderated discussion would hopefully be a more natural situation where politicians could discuss the actual guts of their policies, and be thoroughly rebutted, and perhaps even hold each other to the high standards they all so consistently pay lip service to.
posted by Nomiconic at 10:59 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mr. President! Which of the following do you consider yourself to be?

A) The worst president of all time.
B) The ugliest president of all time.

Only one of the two, mr. president. You may not choose both.
posted by shmegegge at 10:59 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is from the person who said, regarding torture at Gitmo:
"Some things in life need to be mysterious, sometimes you need to just keep walking."
posted by electroboy at 11:00 AM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


In theory, I can get behind the idea.
But, in reality, I'm pretty sure any televised "question time" will devolve into partisan sound-bites, grandstanding, and sniping. Nothing but "Are you still beating your wife?" style questions. It will be be managed to a fare-thee-well.

As noted above, the Obama/Republican kaffeeklatsch worked because it was fresh and surprising, mostly because the Republicans went into it under false assumptions about Obama, thinking he'd sit there and take a dressing-down. A scheduled, monthly meetup will be nothing of the sort.

And, yeah, I'm pretty-much a fatalist at this point about Washington's ability to act like adults about anything, the President notwithstanding.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:03 AM on February 5, 2010


Nate Silver supports it therefore you should too.

Nate Silver also thinks an across the board consumption tax, even on things like solar panels, hybrid cars, and wind turbines would reduce global warming. He may be good with statistics, but as far as policy goes his analysis isn't the most trenchant.

That said, this particular idea is probably a good one.
posted by delmoi at 11:04 AM on February 5, 2010


Have they ever been right about anything?

Worse is that they aren't even wrong, because few higher-ups ever bother to fact-check the basis for a pundit's opinions.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:06 AM on February 5, 2010


The *real* answer is a press that actually fact checks and doesn't kowtow to politicians when they lie to them.
Well, we don't have that and we have no way to get that, so this will have to do.
posted by delmoi at 11:06 AM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, the administration pretty much said 'No' on Monday:

POLITICO asked White House senior adviser David Axelrod about the possibility of regular question time on Monday, before the online campaign was announced, and he said the president's aides were more likely to look for one-shot opportunities for Obama to engage with Republicans.

"The thing that made Friday interesting was the spontaneity," Axelrod said. "If you slip into a kind of convention, then conventionality will overtake the freshness of that."


posted by oneirodynia at 11:09 AM on February 5, 2010


Question Time Isn't the Answer
In the age of terror, America needs sober, bipartisan leadership.


Yes. Because what the Right along with their press mouthpiece Fox news gives us is sober and bipartisan.

I'd be up for more question time styled meetings on the condition that if they did it, the press would actually do the fact checking Obama kept mentioning in his answers. Because I want headlines the next day that read things like "Republican talking-point claims that Obama doubled the deficit not correct".
posted by quin at 11:09 AM on February 5, 2010


Man I have wanted a US Question Time for literally two decades. And I'm only 34. Signed and forwarded.
posted by KathrynT at 11:10 AM on February 5, 2010


I'd like to see another "Question Time" thing of this sort, except that next time Obama gets to be the one asking the questions.

Oh, yes, I would love to see individual senators and congresspeople have to stand up and explain themselves.
posted by logicpunk at 11:14 AM on February 5, 2010 [6 favorites]


The *real* answer is a press that actually fact checks and doesn't kowtow to politicians when they lie to them. Alas, the press is owned by republicans, so that won't happen either.

I wish people would stop saying "the press" when they are referring to a limited subsection of the press.
posted by ekroh at 11:14 AM on February 5, 2010


Alas, the press is owned by republicans capitalism, so that won't happen either.
posted by rusty at 11:18 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


PM's question time didn't sound like a sound bite fest to me, I think because everyone is so vocal in it and there is a genuine back and forth to it. Suddenly it's about the conversation and the ideas within it, rather than talking points and all the other BS.

I met with a woman whose name I've forgotten (sorry) who sat next to Blair at question time. I was absolutely amazed at how candid our conversation was, and this was with a group of 10 US college students. No BS at all. It put direct and real pressure on the administration weekly which prevents the sort of "rest on your laurels and dodge accountability" crap that happens in the US so often. Hell, Adria just closed one of if not the best restaurant in the world to keep the pressure on:
--
"I'm not afraid of anything," he said. "What is needed is pressure. Without pressure, there's no creativity."
--
My only concern is that it'll force debate club grads to be the only acceptable presidential contenders, and I'm not sure that's a good idea. It doesn't seem like the sort of environment that rewards generalized wisdom to me. Still feels better than what we have now though.
posted by jwells at 11:20 AM on February 5, 2010


QT Previously on MeFi
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 11:28 AM on February 5, 2010


Seconding the idea that the parties would suck all the life out of this with pre-approved questions and no actual debate. The parties own the government and they sure as hell aren't going to allow anything that could be used against them slip in. I like Nate Silver's idea, and he can get all the signatures he watns, but in the end they probably won't do the right thing. The fact that the President is both chief executive AND Head of State also means that a tradition of being nice to his face would get in the way.

God I sound jaded and defeatist.
posted by cimbrog at 11:29 AM on February 5, 2010


PM's question time didn't sound like a sound bite fest to me, I think because everyone is so vocal in it and there is a genuine back and forth to it. Suddenly it's about the conversation and the ideas within it, rather than talking points and all the other BS.

It's because the Prime Minister is an appointed official, not an elected one. There's no reason to "score points" against the PM because if his image is tarnished, the party will just put up another one.
posted by muddgirl at 11:30 AM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love question time, I watch the UK and Canadian ones on c-span regularly. It can be great political theatre, but it isn't necessary or even beneficial to a functioning democracy. Americans desires for question time comes from a desire for meaningful political discourse which Question Time can't provide.

Allow me to write out how question time works every week:

Conserv Leader: I say, haven't Labour really fucked up XYZ! Soundbite! Zinger!

PM: That's not true, XYZ might be a little fucked up but remember the Conservative government? Talk about shit!

Liberal Leader: Hey look, we are a third party! Isn't Labour shitty?

PM: Ha ha Libs, you have to sit off in the corner. Joke at Liberal's expense, Conservs and Labs all laugh.

Labour MP: PM, don't you agree with people in my constiuency that puppies are cute?

PM: Agrees for 5 minutes citing figures about Labour's plans for cuter puppies. Oh, and Conservatives hate puppies.

Speaker: Done, see you next Wednesday.

This is why PM Question time is considered in embarrassment by many in Westminster Parliamentary countries. You can imagine how the above would be easily applied to the US. It would be a waste of time.
posted by boubelium at 11:31 AM on February 5, 2010 [12 favorites]


I worked for a time for Addiction Services, part of the Department of Health (at the time, I think they've changed departments in the meantime). I was the secretary to the director. From time to time, such as when somebody was caught doctor-hopping for oxycodone or a meth lab blew up or a methadone clinic got closed or whathaveyou, the Minister of Health woul get asked about it during question period. A runner would be sent from the provincial legislature building across the street to the Joseph Howe* Building where we were, and the director would fashion a response and send it back. Of course we kept tailored responses on hand based on whatever was in the newspaper that morning and then we'd adapt them to the actual question. In the meantime the Minister would talk about how he appreciated his learned colleague's enthusiasm for the wretched addicts or whatever, just nonsense to keep the floor until the runner got back, and then he'd answer with our stats and so on. It was pretty cool because sometimes he'd say verbatim something I'd written.

One of the side effects of question period was that the opposition party would already have asked whatever it is the reporters would have asked as their first question, so it kind of forced the reporters to come up with more substantive questions, at least some of the time.

*I love that a lot of the provincial government offices are housed in a building named after a guy who famously dumped his printing press in Halifax Harbour to protest government censorship.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:36 AM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I should have that was all in Nova Scotia.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:39 AM on February 5, 2010


Parliamentary Question Time develops its own rhythms and strategies, as boubelium points out. They even have names.

Labour MP: PM, don't you agree with people in my constiuency that puppies are cute?

In Australian politics, a question designed to allow your fellow party member to make a time-consuming speech in the form of a reply is a Dorothy Dixer, after the American advice columnist.
posted by zamboni at 12:03 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


UK parliament question time classic
posted by Damienmce at 12:16 PM on February 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


> Americans desires for question time comes from a desire for meaningful political discourse which Question Time can't provide.

> One of the side effects of question period was that the opposition party would already have asked whatever it is the reporters would have asked as their first question, so it kind of forced the reporters to come up with more substantive questions, at least some of the time.

Though they seem to be set at right-angles, these are both excellent points.

I suspect

a) Question Time itself would devolve into utter pablum, which might alienate the public from the process of government even more (few people get enthused and motivated by watching Congress on C-Span);

b) there actually is some possibility that this might motivate the press to ask better questions, because by basically having all their lame or obviously tendentious questions asked by another group-- politicians themselves-- on camera, they might feel their job security and social necessity threatened

So, hmm.

I'm completely echoing the two posts above.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:31 PM on February 5, 2010


On the one hand, the utter inanity of our political discourse is not an accident, and the parties would strive to replicate it in any format. On the other, maybe they get away with it so well because the times are so short? I don't think so, but it's a possibility.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:36 PM on February 5, 2010


I hadn't put that together muddgirl, thanks. Boubelium & joannemerriam - good points as well. So are there any good examples of "meaningful political discourse" between politicians that happen on a consistent basis (i.e. weekly, first of the month, etc.)? Everything seems to happen in speech format so it works against discourse for the timescales us non-politicians work on... I'm sure it's a conversation for them, some how, just wondering if there's any other formats, etc.
posted by jwells at 12:37 PM on February 5, 2010


The Whelk: You can't convince me Peggy Noonan isn't Lucille Bluth under an assumed name.
We have got to get rid of that c-word...
posted by hincandenza at 1:09 PM on February 5, 2010


But if you just try to do this again, both parties will perfect tactics to make themselves look good, the other look bad, and we'll end up with the same vapid debates that we have in presidential elections.

Maybe so. One of the biggest problems with the presidential "debates" is that the candidates never address each other; instead the moderator poses questions, questions carefully selected to be "fair and balanced" and thus toothless.

If Question Time means that opponents can ask real, pointed questions, it wont as readily become formulaic, boring, and pointless.

Most importantly, though, is that Question Time's real worth won't be revealed as long as Obama is President. But when we elect another W. Bush, it might save us from reelecting him, if America can see him at Question Time doing the deer-in-the-headlights impression Bush did when he heard about the 9/11 attacks and sat dumbfounded with a copy of "My Pet Goat".

That's the value of it: establishing a lower bar to weed out Bushes and I-read-lots-of-newspapers-I-can't-name Palins.
posted by orthogonality at 1:57 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to make some sense out of Peggy Noonan's mealy-mouthed rambling, and here's what I got:

"We shouldn't have Question Time because TERRORISM!"

I should answer more questions like that, maybe I too could be in the Wall Street Journal and be considered a preeminent strategist.
posted by Errant at 3:24 PM on February 5, 2010


We have question time here in Australia, and it's shithouse. It's just an opportunity for both government and opposition to say/do the most stupid, time-consuming things they can do to get on the news that night. You'll see stupid cutouts and charts, ridiculous rhetoricals, and really vicious insults. The insults can be funny, but it offers literally nothing to the political discourse here, indeed quite the opposite: it demonstrably lowers the tone and does nothing in terms of bipartisanship or public education.
posted by smoke at 3:46 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Come on, let's all be honest here. We all want Question Time because it will be HILARIOUS.
posted by amuseDetachment at 4:34 PM on February 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


The insults can be funny, but it offers literally nothing to the political discourse here, indeed quite the opposite: it demonstrably lowers the tone and does nothing in terms of bipartisanship or public education.

I suspect this comment is based on the soundbites served up on the nightly news - because they certainly like to boil everything down to a quip or an admonishment.

But the thing about Question Time - the actual use of it - is that the Prime Minister and the opposition leader stand up in parliament (and other members of both sides) and direct questions to each other and they are expected to have cogent and coherent answers. It may be boiled down to soundbites, but the questions and answers are on record and the media make their stories from the back and forth - the debate - and not just staged press conferences or the one-sided grandstanding that seems to happen in the US Senate, for example.

The absence of Question Time - or similar - in the US system means that someone like Dubya can get away with eight years in office barely ever answering a question from anybody - Congress, the media, people on the street. He's not kept accountable except through poll numbers and exceedingly biased 24-hour news networks.

As someone else said above, Question Time for someone as erudite as President Obama might well be a walk in the park. But the event in Baltimore wasn't exactly Question Time. What if he was able to ask questions of Republicans and they were expected to have answers then and there? And if it was part of the political process, both sides would really have to be on their game more.

I see most of America's politics waged on news programs and in speeches and scripted, choreographed news conferences and prepped interviews. Occasionally there's coverage from a Committee or a rambling speech made on the floor of the Senate. And sure, as opposed to the UK and Australia, there's no incumbent party or opposition in US politics - but there most assuredly is those dividing lines in every place where issues are discussed. Why not actually sanction this kind of discussion as part of the political process?
posted by crossoverman at 9:26 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Crossoverman, the comment was based on majoring in political science at the australian national university in canberra, working for a political party, and both seeing live, watching videos & reading far more of question time than is good for a person. Believe me, I'm not watching SkyNews for my updates.

The expectation of cogent and coherent answers is purely on paper, and certainly doesn't aid their main goal - which is to get on telly that night. There is no real debate, or back and forth, except to trade blows.

What you're looking for is the kind of detail that comes out in senate estimates - when politicians are under oath, protection of parliamentary privilege is limited, and charge of perjury is a legitimate prospect. In my opinion, estimates drives more accountability than any other aspect of our democracy, even the high court.

The idea that question time aids in accountability and open discourse, three-dimensional policy and god help us all fact, is sadly untrue. They can - and do - say anything. Witness UteGate for a recent example.

I'm all for more accountability, but question time ain't it. At best, it's a rhetoric competition, and at worse a free time for slander, defamation, grandstanding, lies and hypocrisy.
posted by smoke at 11:02 PM on February 5, 2010


I suspect this comment is based on the soundbites served up on the nightly news - because they certainly like to boil everything down to a quip or an admonishment.

Question Time is broadcast live on News Radio. You could probably benefit from suffering through an hour of it.

But the thing about Question Time - the actual use of it - is that the Prime Minister and the opposition leader stand up in parliament (and other members of both sides) and direct questions to each other and they are expected to have cogent and coherent answers.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

Sorry.

Question Time is the least coherent, least inspiring, least adult portion of the entire workings of the Australian Parliament. It's basically the section where the pollies get to stop being serious and just spend a few hours slagging each other's parties in the most colourful language they can muster.

Being exposed to Question Time is what puts a hell of a lot of young people off formal participation in Australian politics. If school children behaved like our elected representatives (with, it must be said, the notable exception of the Greens) do in Question Time, they'd be sent off to sit in the naughty chair. It's pathetic.
posted by flabdablet at 6:44 AM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Better link.
posted by flabdablet at 6:48 AM on February 6, 2010


Special topic question time?
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:51 AM on February 8, 2010


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