Talk the talk

After watching President Obama go head-to-head with Republicans at their annual retreat in Baltimore, and dominating every aspect of the conversation, I am once again intrigued by the possibility of real dialogue about issues on a national stage.

Anyone who has seen the British prime minister debate his rivals on the floor of Parliament knows that there is much to be gained from a legitimate exchange of information and ideas. Unfortunately, in this country, the closest we come to that are staged debates, so formal in their structure, that any meaningful exchange is smothered at the outset.

And the substitute dialogue, hammered out hourly by surrogate talking heads on the cable news networks, only serves to emphasize our paucity of legitimate public forums.

So it’s no surprise to find that only a third of Americans know what the health care public option is, 39% believe in evolution, nearly half think the President can suspend the Constitution and a majority still think there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when we invaded the second time. Let’s hope that the 50% of Americans who believe we are protected by Guardian Angels are right. Someone has to take care of us.

I would like to see President Obama issue a challenge to the loyal opposition to debate him, one on one, every week for an hour on C-SPAN. Two people sitting across a table having a spirited discussion of whatever issues come to mind. Participants would venture into the seamy world of wedge issues and demagoguery at their own peril. It would be a fine replacement for the weekly presidential radio address and maybe make it up to the TV network for jobbing them on Obama’s pledge to televise the final stages of health care negotiations.

Update: How delightful. Not only did Obama arrange to have televised the final stages of health care negotiations, he sat down one-on-one with the loyal opposition and debated a range of issues.