"We live in a world that increasingly demands more dialogue than monologue."
Those are words from the founding manifesto issued earlier this week by a diverse group of bloggers, journalists, commentators, techies and politicos calling for more question-and-answer sessions, or "Question Time," between the President and the opposition party.
I am one of those, along with Grover Norquist, who has signed on. Here’s why: these are times when unfiltered, unfettered public debate–rigorous, substantive, candid and civil–is rare and hard to find. I believe that "Demand Question Time" could help us nurture a more informed, more vibrant democracy.
Last week we witnessed a rare event. President Obama met with GOP House members at their Issues Conference and the debate was more riveting than a good reality show, and probably more significant (despite my passion for "American Idol"). It made us all remember that political exchange can be both compelling and entertaining.
This project could enhance civic engagement and the winners will be the American people. At a moment when so many people complain about our hyper-polarized politics, and there is a crisis in public interest journalism–where’s the press attention to meaningful Congressional hearings, for example–here is something to celebrate: a cross-partisan coalition of new/old media and political folks who may not agree on everything or even much at all, but do agree that we can do better when it comes to encouraging unmoderated discussion and debate. In a media climate often perceived as nothing more than blogosphere bickering and cable-talk squabbling, this pro-democracy idea transcends ideology.
I know there are problems, challenges with this proposal. As David Corn–Mother Jones‘ Washington Bureau Chief and The Nation‘s DC Editor for two decades who helped spearhead this effort–writes, "We do realize that if QT does become a Washington routine, politicians and their aides will do what they can to game it to their advantage. There may well be attempts to institutionalize Question Time in a fashion that renders it nothing more than a canned replay of pre-existing spin."
But a regular event such as this would square with what the Obama Administration says it cares about–openness, transparency, and a more vibrant democracy. This practice would help show folks outside the Beltway what goes on inside the Beltway. As Obama recently told Senate Democrats, "We’ve got to constantly make our case. And not play an insider’s game; play an outsider’s game."
That’s why–along with unusual bedfellows like Norquist–I’m hoping "Question Time" could become the Americana equivalent of "question time" in the British Parliament. I do agree with Andrew Sullivan that we should not only have regular public and televised encounters between the President and the opposition party, but also encounters with his own party.
In one day more than 8,000 people signed onto our petition to Demand Question Time. I hope you will sign on too. More open dialogue will only enhance our democracy.