Strange bedfellows

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2010; 11:30 AM

At long last, liberal and conservative bloggers have found something to unite around.

They want more of what the Brits call Question Time.

I have to agree that President Obama's 90-minute dialogue with House Republicans in Baltimore was both great television and greatly enlightening. How incredibly rare to see political opponents, especially in this polarized environment, having a civil and substantive discussion.

Plenty of people think it was a slam-dunk for the president, but the GOP minority also got to grab a share of the spotlight. Republicans were able to demonstrate that they do have ideas, and there was a brief glimpse -- maybe a mirage -- of the two sides finding common ground.

But I don't believe it's likely to be duplicated, at least not in the fashion we saw. The idea of televising the session, pushed by the White House, emerged at the last minute. Neither side quite knew what it was getting into, as evidenced by the fact there was no live camera trained on the congressional questioners.

If it were to happen again, such an event would be far more scripted. Each side would come armed with poll-tested sound bites. There would be negotiations over how much time each side would get to prevent presidential filibustering. It would be more of a standard-issue political debate. And what president would want to subject himself to that, giving critics regular access to his mighty megaphone?

But maybe I'm being too cynical, and bloggers of all ideological stripes have joined forces to ask Obama, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to agree to regular sessions. They are pressing the case at the Web site Demand Question Time (it must be popular because it was impossible to access for much of Wednesday). "We live in a world that increasingly demands more dialogue than monologue," it says.

Some of those signing the petition: Markos Moulitsas, Ana Marie Cox, Katrina van den Heuvel, Todd Gitlin, Mark McKinnon, Grover Norquist and Craig Newmark of Craigslist.

We get the back story from David Corn at Politics Daily:

"Seeing that others on Twitter were jazzed by this American version of Question Time, I noted in repeated tweets that citizens and journalists should demand regular public and televised encounters between the president and the opposition party. . . .

"Micah Sifry, a co-founder of TechPresident.com, a cross-partisan group blog covering the intersection of politics, governance and technology, sent me a direct message on Twitter: 'you write the language for an online petition for institutionalizing #questiontime and we'll push it out.' I'm a journalist, not an activist, but I thought starting a crusade for better political debate could be worthwhile. The next day, I sent Sifry a draft.

"By this point, Sifry had enlisted Ari Melber, a Nation magazine writer who covers the Netroots, and Michael Moffo, who was director of special projects for the Obama campaign and who now works for the SS&K communications firm. All four of us realized at the start that this effort would not fly if it had only one wing. The point was not to set up more sessions that Obama could exploit to his advantage. The aim was to enhance political conversation. Sifry immediately reached out to conservative bloggers and Republican techies, and he recruited Glenn Reynolds, Jon Henke and Mindy Finn."


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