John McCain’s speech on his vision for America may have been comically sunny , but it’s got one nugget of genuine inspiration:
"My administration will set a new standard for transparency and accountability. I will hold weekly press conferences. I will regularly brief the American people on the progress our policies have made and the setbacks we have encountered. When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them. 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."
As anyone who watches C-SPAN knows, the British Parliament’s Question Time makes the most entertaining (and informative) political viewing imaginable. (See here , here , and here .) Members of parliament get to question, prod, and berate the prime minister into defending the government’s stances. Candor is expected, although PMs dodge questions all the time, and witty barbs are often rewarded with cheers and desk-pounding.
Q&A sessions in the House and Senate wouldn’t be the same. The American chambers are a bit more subdued than their British counterparts, and the rhetorical flourishes of American congressmen and congresswomen aren't as impressive. But certain members of Congress would be in their element. Imagine Joe Biden shredding the president over Iraq. Or Barney Frank taking him to task for his tax plan. The policy battles that normally take place through dry memos and the occasional floor speech would become spectator sports. It would also be catnip for journalists.
McCain’s proposal is especially bold given the chances of an overwhelmingly Democratic congress in 2009. But right now, it gives McCain the moral high ground when it comes to transparency. McCain and Obama are locked in something of a transparency arms race. Both senators have released tax returns. McCain promises to hold weekly press conferences. Obama pledges to post more information about federal spending online . By the end of this election, I expect the candidates to release their teenage diaries. But McCain’s Question Time proposal is hard to beat. Unless Obama pledges to install a live feed in Cabinet meetings, McCain may have won this round.