January 29, 2010

So Much for Question Time

Lots of bloggers are cheering President Obama's impromptu debate with House Republicans in Baltimore today: Besides the thrill of seeing Obama parrying the usual GOP attacks with aplomb, the whole exchange was reminiscent of the highly entertaining Prime Minister's Questions in the UK. But it looks like that won't happening again, as the GOP is now regretting having cameras at the meeting. Even if they did allow cameras in the future, though, I doubt that the sort of unscripted debate we saw today could survive in the American media landscape. The cable news networks seem to like reducing debate to dueling talking points, and pundits and politicians for the most part oblige. And while Obama dove into the debate with enthusiasm, too many politicians, Democratic and Republican, aren't well-prepared to do what he did: It's not merely about intelligence or rhetorical skills, but about refusing to reduce things to sound bites and talking points. There's a reason most Presidential debates, for example, feel more like a press conference than an actual contest of ideas.

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