WASHINGTON – Roughly 230 years after the United States cast off British dominion, is it time for Washington to learn from London and adopt its version of "Prime Minister's Question Time"?
A group of prominent US journalists, commentators, consultants and academics says US presidents starting with Barack Obama should embrace frequent, public question-and-answer sessions with their critics in the US Congress.
"It is time to make Question Time a regular feature of our democracy," they said in an open letter that called on Obama to institutionalize the kind of robust back-and-forth he and Republicans had in a January 29 forum.
"The exchanges were substantive, civil and candid. And in a rare break from our modern politics, sharp differences between elected leaders were on full public display without rancor or ridicule," they wrote.
Political aides in both parties privately scoff at the idea, saying that the usual calculations of politics would quickly kill off the spontaneity seen on January 29 and turn the event into just another place for posturing.
Still, it's not the first time Americans have been urged to consider the idea: Obama's Republican rival for the White House, Senator John McCain, said in a May 2008 speech that if elected he would seek such an arrangement.
"I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the prime minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons," said McCain.
That weekly, 30-minute session features a frequently rough-and-tumble exchange often punctuated with cheers, jeers, and shouting. It can sometimes be seen on the US public affairs television network C-SPAN.
Then-president George W. Bush's spokeswoman, Dana Perino, immediately scotched the idea that he would hold such an event "as entertaining as that might be," but told reporters: "It would be a lot of fun for you to cover."
The measure's supporters, drawn from across the spectrum of US politics, say they are not naive but want to seize any chance for a meaningful policy debate.
"People don't make stuff up in debates," said conservative Grover Norquist, president of Americans For Tax Reform, who called for "an end to government by teleprompter and speechwriter."
"Technology has given us unprecedented ability to communicate, and argue, with each other. It's time that the discussion among our political leaders reflect the best practices of that ongoing conversation," said Ana Marie Cox, a tart-tongued liberal observer of US politics.
© AFP 2014