That point—about the means for debate, oversight, and engagement that we already have at our disposal—goes to the second issue: whether it makes sense to develop a “question time” equivalent in the U.S. As the political scientist and blogger Jon Bernstein wrote this week, the value of question time in Britain is that the parliamentary system affords very few other tools to the minority party, or even back-benchers of the majority party, to influence political decision-making. As the health care debate has shown, that is not a problem for the U.S. As Bernstein notes, “in Congress, the minority has real opportunities”—and, along with it, a real responsibility—to help make policy. What we need, he writes, is not question time but more presidential press conferences (which have been “sadly neglected” by Obama) and more press attention to meaningful Congressional hearings.
Structure and institutions matter a tremendous amount in politics; more, in fact, than the press is often willing to recognize. But in this case, the eagerness to adopt a foreign institution may be a way to avoid recognizing that the tools for a better politics are in our hands, if only we would choose to use them. “It all goes to show,” Kettle said, “that the grass always seems greener in the other guy’s garden, I suppose.”