President Obama

Serious Questions about Question Time

There's a bipartisan movement afoot to formalize the Question Time concept, and I'm kind of ambivalent about it.

Right off the bat, I'm always a little iffy about signing a petition that contains the name Grover Norquist. Would Norquist and the Republicans support such an idea if, say, Sarah Palin were president? No effing way. Will they withdraw their support should some random GOP doof be elected president? Absolutely. The far-right never would've supported such a petition when Bush was president. Here's one reason.


On one hand, I think Question Time is an outstanding idea, and it needs to happen on a regular basis.

The problem is that if it becomes a formalized political event, it's so easy for it to become staged and structured. Questions and answers negotiated in advance. Lights, buzzers and fancy-shmancy stage sets. Time limits. In short: everything bad about TV debates and town halls.

In other words, the effort to formalize Question Time sessions might actually kill the efficacy of Question Time.

The only way to do it, and to preserve its integrity, is to make it entirely spontaneous. Perhaps form an independent, bipartisan commission with rules that both parties, chambers and branches agree to. The commission spontaneously sets random Question Times, with only a few hours notice for those involved. Naturally, the sessions would be set with presidential and congressional schedules in mind. But what I'm suggesting here is more of a pop quiz. When you least expect Question Time -- BOOM! There it is.

Otherwise, there's no point. Politics is so often treated as a show -- especially when it's presented on television. There's very little that can be done to prevent Question Time from taking on the same characteristics.