To the editor:
British members of the Commons are either smarter than their American counterparts in the House and Senate or they have a better debate style that brings out their talent. I’d vote for both.
There is no question in my mind that our Congress is ineffective, and the British House of Commons is far more productive.
It’s probably worse in our Senate than in the House. We use a style that was likely used in our Continental Congress. The word “debate” really doesn’t apply to our Congress. For proof, watch CSPAN2 when they are showing the so-called debate on the Senate floor.
The senators mostly read prepared speeches that may have been written by their staff, and are full of hyperbole, distortions, party attitudes and talking points – even outright lies. They drone on and on and no one listens. Every speech by a Democrat is a diatribe against Republicans – and the reverse is no doubt true.
Some debate may take place in our committees, but they are rarely if ever televised. Committee hearings often are, and the members of one party sometimes call out the members of the other. But these clashes are tame compared to debate in the British parliamentary.
In the Commons, the majority party chooses the topic of the debate. It can be a bill or a proposal. The party in power introduces it then defends it against all comers from the other side. The two parties take turns attacking and defending the proposal in a free-wheeling style – with a judge, called the speaker, who makes certain the debate stays on point.
Since the first to speak is often the prime minister, you know exactly what he or she believes, and there had better be good reasons to propose it because he is intensively cross-examined by the other side, who will skewer or ridicule him if he doesn’t have good reasons for his or her assertions.
After the initial speeches, the debate goes to short speeches and any member may talk for about a minute, on one point of order, as recognized by the speaker, who alternates parties. Wit, intelligence and humor are features of the debates.
You can see from the above that all members of the Commons tend to be involved. In our Congress, the members might not even be in the room.
If we adopted the parliamentary style in our Senate, it might be the majority leader in the role of proposer and primary defender. The leader of the opposition, who is the main debater against the party in power’s leader, might be Chuck Schumer.
I find parliamentary debate very entertaining, and the important pros and cons of a given question are exposed. You don’t have to depend on some biased network TV analyst to know the issues.
Our high school and especially college debate classes are increasingly teaching the “parli” style.
I believe that if Congress used such a system, the members would be much more involved. Debate would go faster. More bills would get through. We’d see fewer rhetorical tricks, party talking points and unchallenged controversial assertions, and the members might even change each other’s minds now and then. For an important bill, the public would pay attention. Watching a debate on CSPAN might beat Monday Night Football in viewership.
We need to bring Congress out of the 1700s and into an active debate. I believe the entire country would benefit.