The "Question Time" format -- Republican legislators vs. Democratic President -- turns out to suit Obama perfectly. He listens carefully to the question/statement. He prefaces his answer with a brief courtesy of some sort. Then he analyzes the question, calmly picking it apart and vaporizing its premises. Then he explains (a) why his policy is preferable and (b) how it has already incorporated Republican ideas to the degree that they make sense.
He occupies the position of authority: he's President; he has the podium; the format makes it awkward for his questioners to interrupt or hector him. He sets the rhythm, and the rhythm suits him. There's a leisurely arc to his answers. In the campaign debates, the stingy time limits -- "one-minute answer!" "lightning round!" "Bzzzz!" -- and the preening "moderators" cramped his style. Sometimes he'd barely get started. In Baltimore, he didn’t have to rush. Each answer became an essay with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It helped that his questioners were politically hostile public officials pretending to be policy wonks, because that freed him to unleash his own, greatly superior wonkery without sounding overly technical or condescending.
My fear is that all that will resonate from Obama's appearance will be its tone and scorekeeping -- meta-analysis will prevail over policy analysis. The actual content of his proposals and his explanations for why the GOP's alternatives are useless will get lost in the noise. As Paul Krugman pointed out today, the GOP has no ideas and to date that appears to be a winning electoral strategy.
My hope is that this event will encourage the GOP to flog their ideas more vocally. If today's "alternative" GOP budget document is any indication -- with its massive cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- the GOP is probably better off sticking to their familiar, well-worn one word answer.