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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

We are pleased to present this guest article in support of Question Time by U.S. Congressman Kendrick Meek, the four-term incumbent from Florida’s 17th Congressional District and a candidate for U.S. Senate.

Why I Support Question Time for our Democracy

by Kendrick Meek

On the occasion of today’s White House Health Care Summit, I would like to offer my full support for Question Time – a bipartisan effort to hold regular, unmediated, and open exchanges between the President and members of Congress, the direct representatives of the people.

Over 18,000 Americans, representing all political stripes, have joined the online movement for Question Time and many young supporters have approached me about getting behind the idea. After seeing the success of the President’s appearance last month at the House Republican retreat in Baltimore and his subsequent Q&A with Senate Democrats, I’ve become convinced that Question Time will both strengthen our governance and help revitalize our political process.

Democracy doesn’t take place in a vacuum. It requires commitment, energy, and openness. And, most importantly, it is not a solo act. Too often, we think of politics in a top-down, hierarchical sense instead of treating it as a two-way street. Holding regular, publicly-televised and webcasted conversations between the President and the people’s representatives has the potential to combat hyper-partisanship and political stagnation.

The President’s open dialogue with House Republicans afforded Americans a valuable opportunity to see their elected policymakers in action, debating the great issues of the day in a meaningful and civil manner. For an entire day, the 24-hour cable news cycle stood at a virtual standstill, transfixed by what they saw. Gone were the sound bites and political sniping. For once, ideology took a back seat to substance.

Given its success, why not make Question Time a permanent fixture of our democracy?

Today, our nation stands at a crossroads. We can continue down a dangerous path toward increased partisanship and polarization or we can choose to place trust in our system of governance. As an American, I have faith in our democracy. If we institute a regular, open forum for our elected leaders to publicly air and debate their ideas, we all win.

Ideally, Question Time would be both bipartisan and bicameral. However, I’m not interested in advancing a specific proposal so much as building momentum behind the idea. I’m far from the first member of Congress to call for this type of forum. As some may recall, Senator McCain endorsed Question Time as a presidential candidate. At the time, some pundits mocked the suggestion, but it was actually quite an innovative and bold proposal. Simply put, it was a good idea.

Even the White House has dismissed the idea of instituting Question Time, claiming it is “going to be hard to recreate the spontaneity that happened.” However, is “spontaneity” really the end goal? Or is it something much greater, a deepening of our democracy and renewal of our basic governing process?

Politicians today are heavily scripted and risk-adverse. Too many are unwilling to reach across the aisle and forge a bipartisan consensus for the good of the country. Question Time would have a healthy effect on me as an elected leader by providing a regular opportunity to hear views that differ from my own.

I understand that Question Time is no panacea to our country’s challenges. There is no magic wand that will suddenly break our political impasse. I do think, however, that it’s worth a shot. I would be curious to know what you think @KendrickMeek on Twitter or via Facebook at facebook.com/kendrickmeek.

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