Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Question of Accountability

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Question of Accountability

Article excerpt

Because of the nature of politics in the United States, the public is clamoring for accountability from its elected leaders. The 1994 congressional elections ra1 and the dismantling of the welfare state appear to reflect this concern with accountability and the efficient use of our national resources.

While Republicans in Congress are calling for less oversight of private economic concerns, both parties insist on greater oversight of political concerns, such as the personal actions of executive and legislative officials. Several officials from the president's Cabinet have been scrutinized publicly for alleged wrongdoing. The president's own involvement in the Whitewater affair remains under scrutiny. Meanwhile, House Speaker Newt Gingrich has come under fire for his alleged ethics violations regarding his notorious "book deal."

These inquiries heighten the public's attention to the actions of their leaders. But they can also lead to fear, suspicion and mistrust, damaging the image of America's leaders and politics in general.

The obsession with accountability is a legitimate one, however. And at a time when the world is making a transition from the bipolar world order during the Cold War to a multipolar one, accountability is also lacking internationally. For example, there has been global "buck passing" in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia.

Hence, American officials could stand up and show their citizens that they are more reliable and accountable than they are perceived by the public at large. How can this be achieved?

I propose a governmental "question time," similar to the government's Question Time in the United Kingdom. Question Time is held in the Britain's House of Commons, the nation's top legislative and political body, between Monday and Thursday from roughly 2:30-3:30 p.m. On Tuesdays and Thursdays the final 15 minutes of Question Time are exclusively devoted to questions for the prime minister. This period is often polemical, lively and entertaining.

It is in this forum that current Labor leader, Tony Blair, and backbenchers from his party, have been able to chip away at the tenuous position of Conservative Prime Minister John Major. In the late 1980s, Margaret Thatcher used a televised Question Time to defend her conservative political and economic policies from the invectives of the"benches opposite."

I believe both Democrats and Republicans could benefit from a presidential or an executive question time. And in eras of "cohabitation," as a divided government was called in France (when the Socialists controlled the presidency and the Gaullists controlled the National Assembly) a question period for leaders of a Republican congress and a Democratic executive would be in order.

Why would this improve political discourse in the United States? …

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