Media Blog

Question Time: Opposite Reasons, Identical Conclusions

Tom Kavanagh of AOL Politics Daily and yours truly discuss “Question Time” at NPR. Kavanagh thinks that adopting “Question Time” in the U.S. is a bad idea because the British version is too rowdy and disrespectful. I think it’s a bad idea because the American version would not be equally rowdy and disrespectful. Kavanagh writes:

Can you imagine what U.S. style encounters could degenerate into, given that we already have at least one House member who couldn’t suppress the impulse to shout “You lie!” during the president’s address to a joint session of Congress?

And my polar-opposite take:

Given Washington’s wit deficit, Britain’s bracingly deflating “Question Time” sessions here inevitably would be inflated into one more risible pageant of self-serious chin-stroking, media huddling, and asinine analysis. To what possible benefit?

A few more thoughts:

President Obama’s instinct, on those occasions when the road fails to rise and meet him, is to give a grand speech, and his “Question Time” sessions promise to be State of the Union pageants in miniature. They are therefore to be dreaded.
Americans have a superstitious attitude toward the president: We believe that by speaking, he shapes reality: I have met a great many people who believe, for instance, that the HIV epidemic would have taken a different course had Ronald Reagan but uttered the word “AIDS” in public. What Obama has not quite figured out is that speechmaking is only a very small part of the job: George W. Bush had a wretched time of it as president not because of his maladroit mouth — though he was an often incoherent communicator — but because he pursued some mistaken policies and was slow to correct his errors. Obama is pursuing mistaken policies and shows no sign of correcting his errors. He is an excellent homilist — given a better sort of education, he might have made an excellent clergyman — but oratory will not redeem his presidency, no matter how many grandiose speeches he delivers or how dexterously he bests the Republicans while doing his prime-minister act. To speak is not to do, and it is wondrous strange that Obama has come so very far in life with so very little appreciation of that truth.

 

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