I just woke up, and in my stream, was this tweet from Micah Sifry.
RT @Mlsif: Interesting to see progressive Obama fans like @shoq and @karoli pushing back against #questiontime
I had this hunch that my response was going to be more than 140 characters, so best to respond to it here where I can have ample room to be as as wrong as I know I can be.
Micah, I met you at the PDF last summer, and have a lot of respect for you and your projects. I was glad to see anyone advocating any new idea, and was supportive of the effort. I had casually proposed the same idea to my stream, not 60 seconds into that Q&A last Friday. So I'm quite interested in the concept of "#QuestionTime" in the United States, as an idea for our democracy, and was glad it was proposed. But I also think it's an idea that should be considered solely on its merits, apart from the near or long term political issues or partisan preferences many are already trying to find in it. Despite what Antonin Scalia says, the experiences of other countries are obviously instructive here, and we may be able to learn from their successes and failures when designing or implementing our own variant of their QuestionTime sessions.
To my knowledge, you're not in my stream, so you probably don't know that I have a standing fondness for sharing different aspects of complex issues that can help citizens who don't follow them closely, have enough context and perspective to form an opinion. True to that aim, that's all I was doing last night when I tweeted the two examples of the madness that can ensue with the British #Questiontime model. Many a Brit will confirm that the process can often be anything but the artful occasion for eloquence and dialog that many yearn for, and I simply wanted people to see some illustration of that.
@shoq: There's a risk that #QuestionTime looks like this: http://bit.ly/99qcVu || http://bit.ly/bCRlhg
My goal was not to discredit nor slam the core of idea, but only to illuminate a few of its edges. I have not read any formal position of @Karoli's, but she and I already disagree about whether #Questiontime is a good idea. At risk of representing her views incorrectly, she feels that it's going to be just a new distraction, another tool with which the right wing can game our process in the long term, and one more way for the Foxbaggers to paint Obama as a disingenuous socialist radical in the short run.
And the fact that such vicious and manipulative ideologues like AFP/David Koch, Brent Bozell and Grover Norquist have signed the petition, lends a lot of weight to her fears. These people have their own Chamber of Commerce, a massive network of policy organizations and advocates, and their very own 24 hour propaganda channel. They know that they can spin almost anything to suit the private agendas of the people and interests they serve. The very day QT even seems to be a reality, they will pay Frankie Luntz handsomely to assemble a skilled tactical team of hitmen who will work tirelessly to ensure that they can milk every QT session for maximum propaganda advantage, no matter how many clever procedural checks and balances are thrown in their path. (I wasn't alone in noting that Luntz was sitting in the front row of last week's Q&A.)
Does that mean they will succeed in gaming QT to their advantage? No. But for them, it's all worthwhile even if it yields just one big shiny gaffe they can put up on Beck's blackboard, and generally hang the rest of their noisy narratives on each month. Because, as we all know, that's all they will ever show to their gullible constituencies. It's what they do. Obama could stand up and thank his god that the earth is round, and they will simply tell their audience that the Founders wanted it to be as flat as the Bible. They will then crank up their noise machine, give Limbaugh, Dobson and Beck their marching memos, and in a matter of hours,Rachel Maddow is forced to spend time discussing that silly science thing, and whether our planet is actually a sphere.
And yet, while I agree with @karoli that there's a very big risk of just that outcome, I also know that such predictions of calamity can be very wrong, or be altered by new or unforeseen circumstance. There is a chance QT could work just as you and others envision, and that makes it worthy of at least an experiment to test the idea. On the other hand, we have a habit of institutionalizing bad ideas in this country, so if it proves to be as gamy as some think it may be, it could be almost impossible to undo. That's why I think it important that we examine it carefully, for both the good and bad it might yield. And I know that's been happening. Nate Silver's post last night reflects the thinking that he, you, and the other proponents continue to put into it. I am deeply grateful for that effort. I am even more grateful for the speed with which it was launched. I cannot think of another initiative in our recent history that got put into play so quickly. And for just that, all the advocates deserve much praise.
Whether it comes to pass or not, it's one more idea, and one more step toward changing the status quo, if only a symbolic one. And for that reason alone, I like it. Our people need to have hope, and a sense that change, however large or small, is always possible.
Even so, I would not have signed the petition had I noticed who the signers were. I have spent years observing—and sometimes documenting—the evil that some of those people achieve, and I see no advantage in enabling anything that they do, claim to do, or want to do (with the possible exception of them moving to Texas and leaving the Union). In my view, they don't deserve a seat at our table, because they prove again and again that whenever they gain even a little edge, the first thing they do is try to cut the legs off that table, or put tacks on our chairs.
There are reasonably sincere people on the right, such as Jon Henke or Leslie Sanchez, who are available to join such bipartisan efforts. I don't see any advantage in seeking the support of the highly paid and all too devious ideologues, operatives and mercenaries who simply lie about most issues for a living. If Brent, Grover or David Koch are for it, that's nearly a guarantee that they envision something bad for democracy, bad for America, and bad for humanity. They aren't needed for such an effort, so why empower them with any respect or cred by even asking them to join it? It's a bit like asking rapists for their help in designing new park lighting. If they like it, something is already dangerously amiss. I think we desperately need to remove these people from the process, and not embed them in it more deeply.
Finally, I have never been a Democrat, and was never particularly enthused about Obama or anyone running in 2008. So I will always bristle at being labeled a "fan" of Obama, or any politician. I'm just a garden variety liberal who thinks that the revolution we SHOULD have is not the revolution we can have in this hackneyed political environment, and until we can have one of those, we just have to blast, whittle, chip or nick away at a conservative movement that has seized our nation and most of its daily narratives. They have most of the money, employers, media, and propaganda machinery, and they play hardball to win. It's a blood sport for them, with huge financial payoffs, and they don't care whose—or how much—blood runs in the streets.
We elected Obama after hearing the same kinds of lofty rhetoric politicians always give out. I was never seduced by it. For me,the only objective—then, and now—was to get, hold, and expand our governing power over the next several election cycles. When we do that, we might rid ourselves of the ruinously selfish and obstructionist conservadems, and finally find enough congressional cojones to break up the monopoly of influence that the rich and powerful continue to inflect on both parties, our politicians, the media, and our peoples at large. I worry that groping for, or insisting on getting everything we feel we are due, in too short a time, and with too slim a popular mandate, will simply make it much easier for the conservatives to use populist ignorance and malleability to retake the reigns, and drive our fragile wagon train right off yet another cliff. At the same time, I am loathe to empower feckless meanderings in the halls of power that just serve to preserve the status quo. I don't have answers. I just know we're running out of time for the endless questions. We need to do something–and quickly.
Thank you for the effort to do what you feel is constructive and important. That alone makes the entire effort respectable and meaningful for me. A nation that stops trying to change the way that it lives… has probably already died.