US President Obama talked to House Republicans on Friday, at their invitation, during a retreat they were holding in Baltimore. Plenty has been said of it elsewhere, but I particularly liked watching the videos of the actual exchange when he answered questions for over an hour. During that session, he was like the lone player on the dodgeball team catching everything they lobbed at him and then, one by one, tagging out each policy point and clearly putting the Republicans in the harsh spotlight of rhetoric exposure.
Hardball with Chris Matthews with choice excerpts from the session:
Full Q&A, courtesy of MSNBC:
I liked it not only because his intelligence took center stage (for once in the last twelve months), but also because it could be a very positive development if this kind of exchange occurs regularly. There are many advantages to such public meetings, not in the least due to the transparency of testing policy points against different branches of government in the public view. The process won’t be perfect, but I expect that weaker policy points would get dropped, ones that didn’t get dropped would be refined through the questioning process, and the strong ones would gain more supporters.
Some people may say that a regular (monthly?) meeting of the President with different factions in the legislature would be against the spirit of the separation of powers. I do not think so. The separation of powers lies in each branch’s ability to formulate and execute its Constitutionally-derived powers, and whether or not the President has a British-style “Question Time” with the legislature would neither change his ability to use his veto nor reduce the ability of Congress to draft legislation. I think of the intelligence agency situation prior to the September 11th attacks. Due to their compartmentalization, separation, and even bitter rivalry (even though they serve the same god!) was a significant obstacle to preventing those attacks from happening. There are reasons why different functional areas should be separated in different agencies, but a healthy network and knowledge exchange among those different agencies could only produce a more capable intelligence community, in which everyone knows their role at the same time as knowing more pertinent information about their areas of focus and to whom information should be delivered in a time of crisis.
The same ought to be true of the government itself, for so long as we have to have one. Building those rich inter-branch connections and regularly putting policy through the gauntlet can only mean a legislative branch and executive branch which can (more readily) agree that they are on the same team.
If this kind of exchange does occur more regularly, it would turn my interest somewhat more towards getting involved in the political process. I cannot stand the inane “that’s just the way it is” attitude and reality of the institution, but with more opportunities like what went down on Friday, I would find participation to be much more valuable.