Question Time?

After President Obama visited their conference last week and took questions from them, Republicans have become very keen on institutionalizing the event the way it is in Britain, where the prime minister routinely takes questions from the opposition in Parliament.

It appears to me that Republicans are simply looking to save face from having believed their own propaganda about Obama’s inability to speak without a teleprompter. Also, it’s standard debating technique for underdogs to be elevated by being granted a debate with the leader. The debate makes both appear equal and the challenger has less to lose than the leader.

Nevertheless, I think Republicans are being short-sighted in their demands. Would they really have wanted the grossly inarticulate George W. Bush to have had to take questions regularly from Democrats in Congress? I think not.

Moreover, the dismal quality of presidential news conferences does not lead me to think that much useful information will be gleaned from question time with members of Congress. They will just ask “gotcha” questions or about obscure issues that are only of interest to them. Anyway, Congress already has hearings with administration officials more knowledgeable about the issues.

For these reasons, I am disinclined to think that a formal question time is any value in our system of government. However, I might be willing to support the idea if the president is allowed to ask members of Congress to answer questions from him. Once they are at risk of looking foolish I think their enthusiasm for question time will vanish rather quickly.

About Bruce Bartlett 76 Articles

Affiliation: Forbes

Bruce Bartlett is a columnist for, the online side of Forbes, the nation’s premier financial magazine.

He served for many years in prominent governmental positions including executive director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Deputy Assistant Secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush Administration, and as a senior policy analyst in the White House for Ronald Reagan.

Bruce is the author of seven books, including the New York Times best-selling Impostor: How George W. Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, and thousands of articles in national publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, Fortune and many others. He appears frequently on CNN, CNBC, C-SPAN and Fox News, and has been a guest on both the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report.

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1 Comment on Question Time?

  1. Being articulate is certainly an advantage but there are a few “hard” questions that I would like to ask both Bush and Obama. Since the Congress is supposedly a representative of their constituents, I believe it would be good to have a formal forum for getting beyond the “spin” to the facts and reasons for their decisions.
    Why not consider “what is good for the country rather than what is good for either party”? Perhaps both the “questions and the answers” would help us to better identify the idiots we elected.

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