Saturday, May 17, 2008

McCain and a real Change: “Question Time” Between President and Congress

Tom Roeser on McCain’s Columbus, Ohio Speech,

...and this strikes me, the amateur historian as powerfully significant—his pledge to further democratize and make more transparent the presidency with these words: “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.”

By all odds, this is the most important innovation since Woodrow Wilson made the decision to revive the tradition, begun by George Washington, to personally appear before a joint session of Congress for the State of the Union. It is a brilliant innovation that will change the nature of the presidency enormously and for the better. It shows an amplification of the communication powers of the presidency. William Howard Taft was the first president to initiate questions from the press which were submitted in writing and to which he responded in writing. Franklin Roosevelt met with the press privately in conferences for off-the-record briefing purposes only where his words were not directly reported. Dwight Eisenhower enlarged this to meet with the media including television on a filmed delay basis which presented the president for the first time explaining his views to the media. John Kennedy enlarged this to hold live televised news conferences for the first time.

Now in the most significant enlargement of democracy since the presidency began, McCain would meet with a joint session of Congress and answer questions in parliamentary form—a magnificent and luminous sharing of his views with Americans. Frankly, it is something few previous presidents would have found the guts to try. Reagan was a master of communications but no one ever insinuated that he had an encyclopedic mind on the intricacies of government that Question Time would necessitate. Franklin Roosevelt was a Machiavellian master of timing and strategy but stayed as far away from immediate performances like debates as was possible.

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