DC “Insiders” and Question Time


Proponents of Question Time will be interested in a survey the National Journal conducted of over 200 “insiders”—mainly Democratic and Republican consultants, strategists, and pollsters. The question: Would your party benefit from another televised session between President Obama and Hill Republicans? Democrats said yes (82 to 15 percent). Republicans, though, said no (52 to 46 percent).

The magazine provides sample quotes from unidentified respondents explaining their support or opposition. Here’s some of what the pro-Question Time Dems said:

“Anytime the debate becomes a choice between our ideas and theirs, we win. Anytime it becomes a defense solely of our plan, we lose.”

“It benefits President Obama more, but it helped Republicans on the margins.”

“Have several: Obama comes off as in touch and knowledgeable, while the Republicans come off as political.”

“The contrast between Obama talking to the nation and Republicans talking to the ‘tea party’ is wonderful.”

“He appears as a leader and willing to reach across the aisle and get something done.”

“The speeches, while beautifully delivered, may have run their course. But one-on-one, the contrast between the president putting forth practical solutions and the Republicans’ bleating and posturing becomes clear.”

“Anytime Peyton Manning can operate against a high school defense, it’s good for Peyton Manning.”

“Can we do it in prime time, please?”

The Republicans supporters of Question Time noted,

“Rather than being the ‘Party of No,’ Republicans came across as thoughtful, substantive, and respectful toward the president.”

“Another session would help, as GOPers would be prepared for TV coverage and perform better. That’s why Obama will not do it again.”

“But only if they get Obama off the podium, down on their level, and make it about policy solutions, not just a gripe session.”

“Anytime Obama has to fly without his TelePrompTer pacifier, it reveals his petulant side.”

“Next time, though, moderate members should do the talking.”

“Republicans need a stage and a smile — not a smirk.”

“It gives the GOP stature to be in the arena with the president. Without that, they are just a party bereft of ideas and an agenda.”

The Republicans who said no explained,

“It was a stupid decision to allow the Q&A to be televised. Obama wiped the floor. We are still not that good at messaging. I think our leaders start to believe their own press releases. We are the same party the voters rejected in ’06 and ’08.”

“Talking policy is the wrong move: Republicans just need to oppose President Obama.”

“Attempting to be ‘bipartisan’ on TV is merely entertainment, not reality. Such theater helps President Obama, not our party.”

“Whether GOP leadership gets it or not, we do not yet have a member or members capable of scoring significant points in this format.”

“President Obama is magical on TV and looks reasonable. It’s better to let Obama remain the left-of-center policy wonk.”

You might notice that all of the reasoning—no matter the position—was based on the narrow issue of who would benefit from these exchanges. No “insider” mentioned the benefit to the national discourse of regular and frequent televised exchanges between the president and the opposition. Yet the growing cross-partisan group of endorsers (myself included) have promoted Question Time not out of the desire to gain a partisan edge for one side or the other but to enhance the overall political debate. (I tip my hat to conservatives who have signed on, given the conventional view that President Barack Obama fared better than the House Republicans in the initial face-off.) It’s true that all politics is political, and we can’t expect DC “insiders” to act against their nature. But Question Time is not about scoring points. It’s about developing a better conversation, for the benefit of the citizenry, not the insiders.

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