It may seem that I am making this argument because the current president is not the best public speaker, and maybe I want to expose his disability to be polemical. This however, is not the case, though I admit that George W. Bush’s presidency has provided me with impetus to advance this argument insofar as the future of the United States is concerned. The US is at a very volatile time right now, and every decision should be a deliberate, and justifiable. Moreover, my argument is not solely directed at the executive branch alone. I am advocating a policy that would have a profound effect on future presidents, congressmen/congresswomen, senators, and the American people.
To put my argument in a parable, it would be like people getting on a bus to go to a selected destination and the driver going where he or she pleased. Some of the people on the bus know that the driver is going the wrong way or a bad way, and instead of asking the driver what he or she is doing, they try to indirectly pressure the driver to go the correct direction. All the while the rest of the ignorant passengers are being left out of the process, and are being marginalized by their ignorance and the lack of transparency of the situation. If we could imagine a vigilant passenger standing up and questioning the driver, the ignorant passengers would become knowledgeable of the situation and want to fix it.
As it stands the president is held, somewhat, publically accountable through the media, which in theory would be a good idea if: one, the media did not have their own agenda, which may or may not be the public’s best interest and two, if the president was required to answer their questions. The State of The Union Address may seem to be a sort of political mechanism that bestows a sense of accountability onto the president. However, the president gives the State of The Union annually (though it is not required) and within the address the president can use vague language and present a façade where problems are acknowledged and solutions are disingenuously suggested. The reason the president gives the State of the Union is because he or she is required to do something of the sort in the Constitution as it states: “He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." (Constitution, Article II, Section 3) During the address the president typically speaks down to the audience that is apt to agree and respond with applause. The difference between questioning session and the State of the Union is that, the former questions policy the latter is a declaration of intentionality. Thus, I argue the United States should implement a question time session every week to hold the president accountable.
I will not present every particular about this mechanism; instead I will give a general sketch of what this may be like. The session would have about 100 people there, 75 would be from congress and 25 from senate. Like the British system sessions would last for a half-hour. The majority of the politicians would be selected at random, whilst each party would be able to nominate two or three spokespeople to go. The politicians selected at random will have the opportunity to continue going to the session if they were not selected to ask a question. Unlike the Britain, politicians would have the option of submitting their questions ahead of time unless their question requires information that the president would not have on hand. Questions will have to be under a certain length, and should not be irrelevant. The politicians will be chosen at random and each party will be given equal distribution of questions, independents will be factored in as well, and politicians can defer their opportunity to another politician.
Now that we have a general sketch of what the questioning session would be like, I will explain what type of impact it will have. First off, if one has been in a situation where they were being evaluated on their ability of public speaking and answer questions, it is clear that one must be knowledgeable of the subject(s) and be a skilled orator. I do not think I am demanding too much of a person that is, not only representing me, but the most power nation in the world. We, therefore, would see the essence of the person that was elected, a true statesperson would be able to rise to this task, and it would not be a major burden on him or her. When a president gives a speech he is able to speak about what he pleases, and address questions in the manner he sees fit. Moreover, the people who are willing to listen to these speeches usually agree with that the president is saying anyway. If the president is questioned they will not long be able to make bad decisions or indecisions and get away with it without an intuitive feeling of culpability. For example, if there was an emergency situation, and the president was slow at responding to the situation, he or she would have to answer for their irresponsiveness. Sometimes the media does a mediocre job questioning the president when he has been negligent, albeit the questioning is usually long after the incident and few reporters will press the president to answer. Additionally, during interviews presidents can dismiss important questions with dogmatic ideology and or catch phrases like “we have to stay the course” or “if we don’t defeat terror over there, we will have to fight them here”. The ostensible question evasion would work only so many times if the president was being questioned every week by congressmen/congresswomen and senators, who would be required to ask important questions until they received a reasonable answer.
The other side to this process increases the amount accountability and responsibility that is bestowed onto congressmen/congresswomen and senators. The questioning time would be televised and the politicians would be held accountable if their questions were irrelevant or unimportant. If a politician failed to ask appropriate questions, or the politician deferred their opportunity they would be held publically accountable. A politician would have face accusations of being a sycophant for not asking questions pertaining to the public’s interest in order to please their party. Moreover the questioning session would enable the constituency to contact their representative to pressure him or her to ask a specific question. This would also create a new dimension for interest groups and lobbyist, as they would be able to pressure politicians to ask certain questions.
One of the British Prime Minister’s imperatives is “Exhibiting Strong Parliamentary Performances” during question time, because this performance dictates the level of confidence that is bestowed in the Prime Minister (Almond, p167). The US does not have an official confidence vote, but surveys are usually an indication of confidence or approval. A questioning session will facilitate the public’s evaluation of the president and provide the president with an opportunity to defend or justify his or her agenda to the public. More importantly the public will become more vigilant of implemented policies and will be able to identify the implications of the political ideologies. As the president is questioned he or she will have to explain their policy and why they believe that it will be effective. Through this, I argue, the citizenry of the US will become knowledgeable and less apathetic with politics.
I could construct the best argument on why politicians ought to have increased accountability, but if people will not take the time to listen or watch the executive questioning it becomes a superfluous process. Not many Americans are avid C-SPAN views for a number of reasons, and it may seem idealistic to claim that people will miraculously change their minds about what they watch and listen to. However, I think this would be beneficial and appealing to the public for three reasons: One, there would be the appeal of novelty, if the process was implemented it would attract new and different people to politics. Two, it would be easy for most people to follow and understand. Three, media outlets would propagate the sessions and emphasize the parts they feel are most important, this is relative due to network bias. I am not claiming that people will opt for presidential questioning over reality television, but the process would captivate a new audience.
In conclusion, implementing this policy into the US government would be beneficial to everyone in, and served by it. People are often quick to exonerate presidents or politicians because of their high social status, but they are in fact public servants, they are supposed to be looking out for our best interests, and we should make sure they are. Oddly enough Republican Senator John McCain has claimed that he will institute a questioning policy if he becomes president (citation). But, implementation of this policy should not wait for the next president or opportune time, because American cannot wait. Voter turnout is the lowest among industrialized nations with an average of 52% Australia has the highest with 95% (Almond, p727). I would assume that politicians would want to rectify this ostensible apathy, and the questioning session would be a way to start. If my proposal is not sought out, I might assume that politicians either desire an ignorant populace or have become complacent with government and the lack of participation.
Almond Gabriel A., et al. Comparative Politics Today. 9th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008.
If Presidents Faced Question Time ." New York Times2008, sec. Editorial: 7/6/08
Jonathan Bradbury "parliamentary question" The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics. Ed. Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan. Oxford University Press, 2003. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of South Florida. 10 July 2008 http://www.oxfordreference.com.proxy.usf.edu/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t86.e975
United States Constitution, Article II, Section 3