In Defense of Shouting at the President

Interrupting the head of state during a prepared speech to call him a liar — when he isn't even lying — would be against the rules of decorum in most democratic nations. But in general, I'm all for more frequent, rowdier confrontations between the president and Congress, in part because it gives each party a chance to clarify its agenda while subjecting it to the critiques of the other. At Newsweek, John Barry writes:

The debacles of the past decade surely show how damaging is this inability to require America’s head of government to explain and defend his actions, at the time, to the legislature. Suppose President Bush had been forced to answer tough questions back in spring 2003 about his arguments for invading Iraq? Or his decision to set up Guantanamo and fill it with detainees scarfed up from faraway battlefields? Or his decision to allow the methods of interrogation that he did? The questions he never had seriously to address quickly mount up. …

The debate over President Obama’s desire to change America’s health-care system would surely have been less beset by angry fantasies, less in thrall to paranoid conspiracy-theories about ‘death panels’, if the head of government had been required, over these past months, to face Congress at intervals and answer questions about what he had in mind ?

Indeed. I'd only add that it's no accident that American presidents are treated with such deference. In post-Revolutionary America, a sizable contingent of the political elite wanted to crown George Washington king. He demurred, but there remained a conscious effort to aggrandize the president, through his clothes, seal of office, security retinue, and even the luxury of the chariot that carried him to and from events. In the eighteenth century, this was crucial for a new country embarking upon what looked like a naive experiment in popular democracy. But surely in 2009, as the most powerful nation on Earth, we can afford a bit more rough and tumble.

cross-posted at TAPPED

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