Saturday, October 21, 2006

Jousting In The Presidential Mosh Pit

Friends, I am up late. Spent hours stuck in traffic Friday and on such days I am soon done for: my mind can't resist projecting the traffic jam into a metaphor for my life and at the end of the week I am sufficiently tired that I sometimes believe the rubbish that goes through my head. End result: Friday nights tend to be sleepless.

So I am up late and what have I found in my midnight rambles but video archives on the British Prime Minister's website of his weekly sessions with parliament.

In this parliamentary tradition, the PM visits the House of Commons for a half-hour session of questions and answers. This used to be 15 minutes, but Tony Blair combined two 15-minute sessions into one half hour. During this session, any MP can ask the leader of the government a question on any topic. Watching the video is exciting. Something here is very much missing in my own politics: a sense that the leader of the government is completely accountable, and is expected to answer direct questions - competently - about his or her policies even in the face of catcalls and heckles.
If Tony Snow tried to give the kinds of answers he favors in front of the House of Commons, the lowliest backbencher would howl with laughter and drive Snow from the room. And well it would be.

Such a program could be the most nutritive and sweet-tasting British import since, well, tea.

Imagine a forum in which George W. Putsch might be asked a direct question by, perhaps, Barney Frank; or Barbara Lee; or Ron Paul; or Henry Hyde; in which the Current Occupant was obliged to respond. If we had such a program, it would be a sight more difficult for a worm like this to ascend to the office in the first place.

C-Span's ratings would skyrocket. It would be the highlight of my week.

I read a cool article about this very idea in the Washington Post, and the subject of the article made a good observation. Our President has the untouchability of royalty combined with the role of government head. Not so in the UK: while the Queen is off-limits in a public forum, the PM is up for grabs. Presidential appearances before the Congress are these staid, scripted shows at which no one would dare heckle. It would be seen as unseemly.

Yet, to me, it is unseemly not to. Especially in these times.

At least Blair is forced to defend his decision about Iraq before intelligent, skeptical legislators on a consistent basis; and is forced to pay a political price for that decision.

Click those links and check out some of the video footage. If American politics had more of this, well, sports-like excitement (in addition to intelligent debate), maybe voter apathy would be less of a problem.

1 comment:

Wingtiphsu said...

We do have CSPAN. I like to watch British government in action, but you just can't beat Taiwan for drama.