I will give Joshua Tucker credit for a very clever headline to a post about Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, yelling “Lie!” during President Obama’s speech last night:
However, clever though the headline is, I don’t quite get it. Yes, British Question Time can feature brutal give-and-take and heckling. But cries of liar? I don’t know, but I think not. Or a least not without a stern warning (whatever little that might be worth) from the Speaker (who, unlike in the US, actually is an arbiter and not the head of the majority party in the chamber–the latter role is played by the PM himself/herself, of course).
More fundamentally, there just is no parallel between speeches by a president and by a PM. The latter is by definition accountable to parliament, and thus expected to have to face, and respond to, harsh criticism from his or her fellow elected representatives of the people. A president, on the other hand, is essentially giving a Throne Speech, not engaging in a Question Time. It is one-way communication, notwithstanding that it is presented by the head of government, not (merely) the head of state. We would not subject THE CHIEF to such abuses of his/her dignity as questions from mere delegates of the commonfolk–which perhaps builds up the pressure that leads to said delegates (“Transcendent Hero/Dastardly Villain,” as Steven Taylor puts it) from time to time being unable to exercise dignified self-control.
I certainly am not defending the institution of “state of the union” and similar speeches, such as that given last night. In fact, I think it is a “worst of both worlds” practice. I am just pointing out the problem with the analogy to parliamentary practice.