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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


The Occasional Muse
My humble opinion on current events

March 7, 2003

Dubya Meets the Press 

President Dubya conducted just the second press conference of his presidency last night. He should be holding more press conferences, on a regular basis, live and in prime time. Two in almost two and a half years in office just doesn't cut it.

Press conferences are important. They give the American people, at least those who care enough to watch, a chance to see the President engage in debate with the press corp. While the President's staff prepares him for probable questions, his answers are largely off the cuff and unrehearsed. This provides folks with an unpolished look into any President's thinking, character, and philosophy. Think about it. Most times when the President speaks publicly, it's in the form of a prepared text with little to no chance of feedback or challenge. A skeptic could say it's propaganda. But a press conference provides the people, through the press corp, a chance to ask tough questions, attack assumptions, and challenge the party line.

I would urge Dubya to go even farther than holding more press conferences. Have any of you seen what the British do? It's called Prime Minister's Questions, and it's a delight.

One Sunday night a few years ago, I was bored and channel-surfing, and came across C-SPAN. Now, I know I write this little column every so often, and it's based mostly on politics, but I'm no junkie - I don't watch C-SPAN at all hours or every political show on cable. I'm not a fanatic about this stuff. But this show on C-SPAN intrigued me. There was British Prime Minister Tony Blair, standing in the well of Parliament (I think it's the House of Commons), taking questions from the people's elected representatives. The debate was spirited, feisty, passionate, and lots of fun to watch. Tories would boo and hiss whenever Blair slammed them, while Labor cheered and clapped. I later learned that this takes place every Wednesday (C-SPAN replays it on Sunday nights).

I've come to the conclusion that we need a President's Questions in Congress, probably the House of Representatives, as the legislative body that is closest to the people. The President and some advisers would sit in the House chamber, and the House speaker would conduct the debate. Representatives could be given, say, one minute to ask a question, the President could take three or four to reply, and then the next representative could ask his question.

This would be super! Democrats, can you imagine your local liberal rep grilling President Dubya about Iraq, or Medicare, or Social Security, or the environment, or Dick Cheney and Halliburton, or Dubya and Enron? Imagine the opportunities! And Republicans, just imagine if you had a chance to directly question, live on TV, President Bubba Clinton about Monica, or perjury, or FBI files, or pardons, or Whitewater, or any other sundry Clinton scandals. Talk about entertaining and educational theater. The talking heads on TV would have that much more to talk about. It's a win-win for everyone.

Why should a few select members of the Washington press club hold a monopoly on questioning the president? Our elected representatives should enjoy the privilege, as well, in public, so the whole country benefits.

Because as good as press conferences are, last night demonstrated they're not all they could be. I think every reporter asked roughly the same question: Why don't other countries agree with us? Sure, they used different words, and different scenarios, but it was all the same. And Dubya replied in much the same way each time: I don't care who's with us, I've determined that Iraq is a threat to the United States, I've sworn an oath to protect the United States, so Saddam had better disarm or he's toast.

President Dubya was suitably somber and serious, very much wearing the look of a reluctant warrior, which starkly contrasts the European image of him as a gun-slingin' cowboy. I honestly believe he does not want to invade Iraq, but he feels he has little choice. Actually, the one choice we have as Americans is clear and not difficult to make, and Dubya touched on it last night. We can place our blind trust in Saddam Hussein and hope that the murdering dictator will not use his weapons against us or sell them to the terrorists that he funds, or we can believe our elected president. Folks, that should be a no-brainer, and I say that with the full knowledge that the federal government isn't always as honest or forthcoming as it should be.

Barring a miraculous about-face by Saddam, war will break out in a couple weeks, a war that Saddam has brought about with his own behavior.

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