Public, press can keep our leaders accountable


The independent commission investigating intelligence shortcomings before the 9/11 terror attacks said Thursday it will seek public testimony from President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and also from former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore. It’s most unlikely to happen, but it’s a delightful idea.
As aficionados of C-SPAN know, the British prime minister regularly appears in Parliament for a “question time” during which no question is off limits and answers are sometimes met with notable jeers. It can get pretty rowdy, but it seems to do no harm to the British system of governance.
The American approach to presidents and presidents-in-waiting — who are supposed to be the most quintessentially democratic of world leaders — is more akin to the way older European countries used to treat monarchs. They deliver well-prepared speeches and once in a while deign to joust with members of the White House press corps, who are occasionally impertinent but have a vested interest in not alienating the White House.
It would be great to see our leaders have to defend themselves — in public — from genuinely pointed questions from people who have taken the time to inform themselves on the issue at hand and would be able to follow up when they detect evasiveness. It might just remind them that they’re supposed to be accountable servants of the people rather than our lords and masters.
It would be unrealistic, of course, to hope for any Perry Mason Moments. But it would be nice to set a precedent for at least making an effort to hold them accountable to the public, in public.