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It's Question Time!

Your Humble Blogger will stick a tiny toe back in the waters of political rhetoric for a moment to respond to the demand for a US version of the PMQ. Now, I yield to no-one in my love for the PMQ. I think that was the topic of this Tohu Bohu’s very first Puff Piece lo these many. And in that, I said

Now, not much is actually done in that time. I doubt any opinions change, no compromises get hammered out, and any subject that gets brought up is touched on in the shallowest manner possible. There’s a lot of party squabbling, a good deal of point-scoring, some grandstanding, some petty beefing, and above all, muttering, nodding, coughing, and foot-shuffling. It’s not the finest hour for the Mother of Parliaments, but scarcely the worst; it seems to mostly be a diversion, almost an entertainment.

And it is entertaining. In the last seven years or so, however, there has been an increase in available political entertainment, to the point where I’m no longer sure we need more of it. And, as Jonathan Bernstein points out, the presidential press conference, with a Q&A, is an American tradition that serves much the same purpose, and has essentially died over the last decade. That’s a shame, even with our current press, and a POTUSQ wouldn’t make up for that.

Here’s the benefit of a POTUSQ, as far as I’m concerned. First, it would be entertaining, and specifically it would be entertaining for me. Second, it would be to a limited extent prevent a President allowing himself (or herself) to be totally insulated from criticism. A President can allow his people (particularly his Chief of Staff) to filter his information to the point that criticisms of his policies and politics are made to seem fringe and unsubstantial. I think it’s a Good Thing for a President to be reminded, now and then, that there are a large number of serious, patriotic and intelligent people who think he (or she) is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong. Third, um. Not a lot of third.

It’s hard to see how it would lead to better legislation. It’s hard to imagine it really changing the policies of either the Executive or the Legislature. It certainly doesn’t do that in England, where they have had it for ten thousand years, and where in theory a PM who doesn’t Q well can be turfed at any moment. It is possible that it would actually make negotiations over pending legislation more difficult, although in the current circumstances that’s not really possible.

I suppose, after a few years of POTUSQ and perhaps similar GQ (er, that doesn’t work at all), we may start to choose legislators, in part, due to their ability to ask entertaining questions of our executives. I mean, as compilations of those questions would appear on the web at campaign time, and quite likely on television, too. This would be, in general, bad for incumbents, which would make our elections more entertaining as well. On the other hand, it would distract and detract from actual legislating which has never been much fun to televise. You know?

Just to clarify: I’m not against Our Only President or any of Our Future Presidents choosing to answer questions from the Legislature. I’d be happy if that become the norm, so that any President who avoided it for more than a couple of months was derided as cowardly and out of touch. I’d be happier if that supplemented (rather than supplanted) the norm of answering questions from the Press, however defined. It’s all good. I just don’t expect that it would be anything more than entertainment.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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