Obama Is the Queen of America


President Obama's televised q&a with House Republican leaders last week has started a movement. Petitioners hoping for repeats of the president's peformance at the GOP House Issues Conference in Baltimore are collecting signatures at The roster of name-brand signers includes some very impressive people. 

Transcript and video of the GOP House Issues Conference:


Demand Question Time demands more like this:

America could use more of this — an unfettered and public airing of political differences by our elected representatives. So we call on President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader John Boehner to hold these sessions regularly — and allow them to be broadcast and webcast live and without commercial interruption, sponsorship or intermediaries. We also urge the President and the Republican Senate caucus to follow suit. And we ask the President and the House and Senate caucuses of his own party to consider mounting similar direct question-and-answer sessions. We will ask future Presidents and Congresses to do the same.

Do you really want to hear more of this person?

Demand Question Timers, I am with you in spirit, but not in reality. Question Time, or more precisely, "Prime Minister's Questions," is a habit of a parliamentary system based on majoritarian consensus, in which the head of state is a monarch. The U.S. government is a republic built on divided branches, in which the head of state is a temporary official. There's nothing wrong with conflating the two in an informal way, but why should anybody believe this will improve Washington, D.C.'s cycle of making and enforcing laws? While it's true that the exchange was "substantive, civil and candid," government is not about candor, civility or substance. No minds were changed in this debate, nor should they have been, because the president and the Congress are, by order of the Constitution, natural opponents.

Nobody came away from the q&a with any new information or insight into the Health Care Reform debate, or the stimulus, or any other topic other than the loveliness of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's family. That all these talented and persuasive people did a vigorous job of defending their positions is not surprising, but were we somehow lacking in vigorous defenses of their positions before? 

Obama and the Republicans over the last year have not lacked means, motive and opportunity to get their respective messages out. Getting these messages out is the dedicated task of vast media and public relations machines that continue to grow, sucking dry the marrow of our nation.

The Constitution provides an avenue for the kind of exchange Demand Question Time is seeking. It takes place once a year and is called the State of the Union address. There's nothing in the Constitution stating that the president can't field questions during the State of the Union address, and if somebody puts that in a petition, I'll sign. (It would be an improvement on the current format, in which the Leader is encouraged to pontificate at Syrian length, with the rest of us left only to gauge the volume of the applause.) Meanwhile, Question Time for the president makes no more sense than Question Time for the queen.

This is not anglophobia! I do love Prime Minister's Questions:

NEXT: Corporate Personhood and the Constitution

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  1. I do love Prime Minister’s Questions

    Me, too.

    1. +1
      I’d like to see the POTUS do it. I don’t know that it would alter the sausage making. But perhaps it mights pull a thread on the Red/Blue straight-jacket. Watching both sides fling feces at each other makes it harder to tell them apart.

  2. It’s true that Obama’s head of state – but he’s also head of government (and unfortunate aspect of our system, in my opinion), and heads of government should be grilled once weekly with jalapenos. At the very least, we could see him directly confronted when he attempts to evade an issue (or simply lie), which doesn’t happen in any current format.

    1. Grilling with jalapenos? Sounds cruel, and might lead to a visit from the Secret Service.

      I suggest smoking. Get that great hickory flavor deep in the suit fibers.

      1. Smoking? But Obama claims he’s trying to quit!

    2. Bring it on. He really embarrassed Republicans in this event, and even they admitted it.

  3. I also love Prime Minister’s Questions. I disagree with you your POV. We rarely have this kind of direct confrontation. It is almost always through an intermediary. That intermediary is usually partisan, clueless or afraid of losing access.

    Before you go there, Congress doesnt really have this either. They take turns giving speeches past each other. This kind of Q&A lets voters see politicians defend their positions. Dont watch it if you dont want to do so.


    1. can I deduct those shenanigans from my taxes?

  4. I happened to catch some of this while I was at the dentist. Other than creating a sort of Clockwork Orange style aversion to both Obama and Eric Cantor, I have to say that the president handled himself pretty well. More of this would reward politicians who know the issues well and can think on their feet. Guys like Biden would go back to digging ditches, however.

  5. Prime Minister’s Questions is great political theater. I might get cable, just for CSPAN, if it happened in the US.

  6. Tim, on Sunday or Monday, CNN ran a 5 minute point/counterpoint segment on the merits of walking away from under-water mortgages.

    Thought you might be interested.

    (May have been FOX, but I think it was CNN)

  7. Very briefly…

    Obama seems to think it’s hilarious, painting people as modern day McCarthyists (like he does in that speech) for calling him out on his attempted takeover of the financial industry, the auto industry and the healthcare industry. …just to name a few.

    I say there’s nothing wrong with calling it like it is, even if it makes people laugh at first, and if Obama doesn’t want the American people to reject him for his attempts at central planning, then maybe he should stop trying to centrally plan the economy.

  8. This is not anglophia!

    I should indeed hope it is not anglophia whatever that is.

  9. “Prime Minister’s Questions,” is a habit of a parliamentary system based on majoritarian consensus, in which the head of state is a monarch.

    Seriously, WTF?

    1. Muttley’s right. Ireland has Taoiseach Question Time despite having no monarch. Before anyone asks, that’s the Irish name for their prime minister. And it’s pronounced TEE-shuh.

      1. But Ireland also has a separate President.

        1. Who on earth can figure out that French-style system, where there’s a parliament, a prime minister and a president? And yet that’s been exported to countries great and small. Do any of those PM+Prez countries have the president do questions, or only the PM?

          1. The French system is not a parliamentary system. It used to be like that (4th republic) until the 60s, when a quasi-Coup d’Etat brought back de Gaulle as president with unprecedented powers (5th republic).

            As for other countries, Italy has a PM question time, but no president question time. The president gets only a speech on Dec 31st. but again, the president has no executive power at all. He gets only the power of judicial pardon and to veto unconstitutional laws.

  10. More of this would reward politicians who know the issues well and can think on their feet.

    We don’t know that. We know it rewards one who gets bitter (visibly enraged, really) and clings to his talking points when questioned in ways that don’t presume the script he knows.

    The only knows-the-issues/thinks-on-his-feet guy we’ve had near the presidency in years is Cheney. Would press reports of a Question Time where he made the House Democrats sound like morons reward him for it?

    Because that’s all this is, an occasion for press “analysis.” And we already know what they think.

  11. Sacagawea is the Queen of America. My dollar coins tell me so.

    1. Who would win in a fight between Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony?

      1. I’d put my money on that chick from the Temperance Society holding the hatchet. What was her name again?

      2. Sacagawea is on a round coin, while the Susan B is 13 sided (really? WTF? who makes a coin with a prime number of edges?). So, the Sacagawea is more mobile. Also, she has the baby on her back so its a 2 on 1 fight.

        I do find it odd that we have someone who probably never once thought of herself as an American on our coinage.

        1. Why not? We have a man who doesn’t really think of himself as American acting as President.

        2. Thirteen sides, thirteen stripes, thirteen original States … who ELSE could mint a 13-sided coin? Anyway, the coin itself is round. The 13 sides are minted ONTO the face.

  12. Question Time in the most-watched show on C-SPAN, which is rather weird when you consider that we’re watching the political minutiae of some other country.

    If this started here, it would quickly become bland, formal political theater, much like the SOTU. The whole introducing folks from the audience was a Reagan innovation. After two times, I think it’s kind of stale.

    Now… an argument over legal principles between Alito and Obama… you could put THAT on pay-per-view and clear a significant amount of the debt. That, followed by them doing the “Yo mama so…” thing.

  13. I’d like to see a question time in the States. I just don’t think Obama could handle it, he’d break down in tears since he doesn’t seem to be able to handle any kind of confrontation well. That is, unless he’s confronting a captive audience (like the Supreme Court) who’s not allowed to respond.

  14. Obama handled a question time pretty damn well. That was the genesis of this whole article.

  15. I liked PM Question Time best when John Major was put on the spot. But Tony Blair was good, too, on occasion. I have wanted to see President Question Time ever since the Major years. I firmly believe that, had we had such an institution in place at the time, George W. Bush could not have been elected (though, to be fair, I shudder to think of what would have happened to the country under President Gore — the choice between a douche and a turd sandwich is something only Hobson’s mother could love).

    1. American electorial politics always look a bit lightweight, 3 TV debates isn’t much compared to the week in week out slanging matches of the UK, I don’t think Bush or Obama could hack it

      In the commons no-one ever touched Thatcher eh?


  16. Let me get this straight, Cavanaugh — you don’t think Question Time is a good idea unless it’s carried out during the State of the Union address? Your final paragraph essentially contradicts the rest of your piece.

  17. I think it’s a good idea, because it would be a public demonstration of how pathetic U.S. lawmakers are. Their debating skills are mediocre at the very best. It’s just another opportunity to bring home to the American people that these jerkoffs are not qualified to run our lives.

  18. I think you’re sort of missing the point. This wasn’t good because it helped convince any of the House Republicans to support Obama’s plan, it was good because it’s harder to spew bullshit right in front of your opponent when they have a shot at answering back and not get called on it, and because it gives every citizen a chance to spend 40 minutes on youtube and get at some of the meat of the debate.

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