Friday, January 29, 2010

Presidential Q & A

For quite some time, I would go online to watch the weekly question and answer period in the British parliament. At this weekly event, the Prime Minister is on the spot for thirty minutes, responding spontaneously to questions asked of him by members of three political parties. (Apparently, they can handle three political parties.)

It was inspiring, especially when Tony Blair was the P.M. It was a lesson in politics as well as governing, as the questions and answers ranged from local matters to international affairs, from tax and health policies to political ideology. At their best, the players presented eloquence, passion, and skill. At their best prepared, the players made the nuances of policy public and transparent.

And there are fantastic exchanges like this. Wow.

How often I would sigh and fantasize about an American version of this tradition, a president being held accountable to lawmakers while being given a floor to respond to political assertions. When our President addresses joint sessions of Congress, it is a rare event, such as the annual, highly prepared and rehearsed, "State of the Union" speech. Frankly, I usually skip these. Anything newsworthy in them is generally leaked to the press the day before.

This year, though, two days after the rehearsed speech, a real event took place: the President went to a House Republican retreat in Baltimore. Before an audience of Congressional Republicans, and on live television, the President stood up and responded to one question after another from the rival political party. He did not even have a Prime Minister's comfort of fielding some questions from his own party -- it was all from the opposition, and twice as long as the PMQ's (Prime Minister's Questions).

And it was Obama at the top of his game. He was very well prepared and very quick on his feet, and he pulled off an excellent performance in addressing the falsehoods and devious political tactics, accepting (and therefore emphasizing) criticism of Democratic partisanship, and giving the television audience a lesson in policy that was not boring.

To be even more frank: he mopped up that stage with several challengers who hoped to embarrass him or slip false assertions past him.

I am rather unhappy with this president, but I'll give him credit for doing this and doing it well. This should be a monthly event. I don't care a stray grain of rice for pretty speeches; this was interesting politics.

And I'm embedding it here, encouraging you to watch. The time goes by rather fast.

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quid said...

It was superb. And now I hope he has Republicans in once every week or two (cameras not necessary) to discuss which of their ideas he can support to reach bipartisan legislation in Congress.

Pam said...

I agree with you on the assessment of his speech with the Republicans. I did watch the State of the Union speech and frankly, my one-word assessment of it was "Long". Too long. I zoned out after the first 30 to 45 minutes.