Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Washington was riveted by the rarely televised display of overt political maneuvering during Obama's question-and-answer session at the House Republican retreat in Baltimore last week.
Washington was riveted by the rarely televised display of overt political maneuvering during Obama's question-and-answer session at the House Republican retreat in Baltimore last week. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
There's a campaign afoot to get America's political leaders to sound less like President Obama during his formal State of the Union address, and a little more, well, British.
In Parliament, it's called "Question Time." It's a period set aside for politicians including the prime minister to argue openly. No scripts, no teleprompters, just good, clean debate — and maybe just a little booing.
"Isn't it time the prime minister admitted to his mistakes that he made when he was chancellor?" the Conservative Party leader David Cameron called out to the cheers of his fellow party members at a recent Question Time.
"[Conservatives] don't even know what their policy is for 2010," Prime Minister Gordon Brown shot back. His party jeered in response.
Washington was riveted by the rarely televised display of overt political maneuvering during Obama's question-and-answer session at the House Republican retreat in Baltimore last week. Since then, pundits, bloggers, analysts and journalists have been clamoring for more.
There's even a petition and a Web site: demandquestiontime.com. It's caught fire on Facebook and Twitter.
In Congress, the House Republicans are game.
"Absolutely. We need to do more of that," Republican Whip Eric Cantor says.
"More give and take with him, from the heart, from the man," Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee agrees. "I think it could be very helpful for our country."
And House Democrats were definitely impressed with the president's showing at the Republican retreat.
"He could pull it off to good effect," Rush Holt of New Jersey says.
"He did a great job," Jan Schakowsky of Illinois says. "For me, it was the highlight of the Republican conference."
There's just one little problem with bringing Question Time across the Atlantic, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says. Britain's is a parliamentary system. "That's a different story."
The difference? In England, the prime minister is actually a member of Parliament, chosen to be the leader by the majority party, not the voters. And so he or she is accountable to Parliament.
The United States operates under a system of "separation of powers" among the three branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial. There are some checks and balances, but the branches pretty much act independently. From time to time the president is invited to come give a speech to Congress on a major issue — and then go away.
"The State of the Union is something that is called for, and over any subjects ... that would be appropriate," Pelosi says. "But we're not a parliamentary system." She also notes admiration for the president's sparring abilities, however.
"I think he does very well at it."
And there's one other little problem: The president doesn't want to do Question Time, at least not regularly. His senior adviser David Axelrod, told the Web site Politico that what made the event with Republicans so interesting was its spontaneity.
If you slip into a kind of convention, Axelrod says, then that conventionality will overtake the freshness of the exchange.