Last Friday’s rare — if not unprecedented — question and answer session between President Barack Obama and the Republican House caucus, offered a true glimpse of the President’s debating skills (excellent) and of the Republicans’ ability to present coherent, particularly economic, positions in a reasonable way. Since the session was televised live, everyone clearly played to the camera, and the substance offered by both sides was often obscured by sound-bite piled on sound-bite. Still, the session left this former member of the House Republican caucus yearning for more.
One hopes the president will follow up this first foray deep into “enemy territory” with a series of visits to both the House and the Senate caucuses (of both parties); and under rules that allow for both public and private sessions. There needs to be some limits imposed on the length of both questions and answers, but time also perhaps for at least limited follow up. Whether the Republicans and the Democrats will permit this sort of continuing interchange, which at least comes close to a political debate format akin to that employed for decades by the British House of Commons in questions to the Prime Minister, remains to be seen. However, if both parties have the backbone to subject themselves to a robust, public program of “debates” like last Friday’s, the American public will learn more about whether their political leaders possess the knowledge and the sparring skills to truly articulate and defend their positions, than they possibly could glean by sitting through a dozen state-of-the-union addresses.
Last year’s so-called “presidential debates,” like those four years previously, were an embarassment. So little of real substance could be gleaned from the six hours of programming, as a result of rules deliberately designed not to allow for real substance to emerge, that it was hardly worth the time to tune them in. Last week’s Obama-GOP match might hopefully spur next cycle’s presidential candidates to engage in something that at least approaches a real “debate.”
Kudos to Obama for suggesting this first event, and to the GOP for accepting the challenge. Now that the precedent has been set, Let’s Rumble!