The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Question Time

Want to ask the President and Congress some questions and get some straight answers? There's a new bi-partisan group forming that looks promising. Check Nate Silver's take on it here.


"As you may be aware, I've teamed up with a group of about 50 other thinkers, bloggers, insiders and outsiders to help promote the idea of Question Time -- a regularly held, televised and webcasted forum in which the President would take questions from Members of the Congress, much as President Obama did with the Republican House delegation on January 29th and members of the Democratic Senate yesterday. This is truly a bipartisan endeavor, with everyone from Markos Moulitsas to Grover Norquist on board.You can sign our petition to Demand Question Time here, and follow us on twitterhere.

Just a brief word about why I've signed onto this cause: perhaps I'm an idealist, but I tend to think that the lack of open, unmediated, and honest dialog between members of Congress, between the Congress and the Executive, and between both Congress and the Executive and the public, is the greatest threat to the efficacy of our democracy today. While structural constraints like the filibuster certainly also play a large role, these structures are nothing new -- it's the ways that our political culture have evolved around them that may be more problematic. In particular, it seems to me that there is a need for conversations that are not staged, that are not reduced to 30-second soundbytes, and that are not filtered through the lens of the media. A Question Time period, if reasonably well structured, could be a significant step toward achieving that goal. Politics needn't always be zero-sum, particularly at the time when our country faces a number of threats -- from the economy, to Islamic and other forms of radicalism, to the aggregation of power by elites, to the the changing climate -- in which we will all sink or swim together. That's why you're seeing Democrats and Republicans, technocrats and populists all working together to agitate for Question Time."


"How Would Questions be Chosen? This is the one issue on which I feel most strongly: I think it is essential that the questions be chosen in some random order. Absent this, there is too much opportunity for questions which are less spontaneous and more staged, and for "back bench" members of the Congress -- whom are equal to any others in the eyes of the Constitution -- to play a subservient role to those who are more senior, more vocal, or (as unfortunately was the case in the session with the Senate Democrats) who might derive more electoral benefit from posing questions.

In particular, I would probably design a procedure something along the lines of the following. In advance of each session of Question Time, members of the Congress who were interested in posing a question would indicate as such to the Speaker of the House. They would not have to disclose their question in advance. A list of those members of the Congress who were interested in asking a question would be posted immediately in advance of the session on the Internet.

After that, the interested members would simply be selected in a random order to pose their questions, as is done in the United Kingdom, the lone constraint being that no party could ask more than three questions in a row (provided that there remained at least one question in the queue from the other party). Members of the Congress could not jump into our out of the queue once the session had begun."

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