Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Presidential Debate: Blue is Not an Answer

Gotcha!  Bet you thought I was talking red state/blue state or blue tie/red tie.


Actually I am harkening back to my practicing law days.  When preparing a witness to testify, one of the simple declarative sentences I used was: answer the question.  Don’t duck it.  Don’t answer the question you wish was asked or the question you hope will be asked.  Just answer the question.

The example I used to get my point across went something like this: Let’s practice answering the question.  What time is it?  The person would then give me the time.  Good, I would say.  See how easy that is.  If I ask you for the time, you wouldn’t say ‘blue’, now would you?  Because that wouldn’t make sense.  When I ask you the time, do not tell me the color of the sky.  It’s annoying.  It’s rude.  It’s a waste of time.  And it looks dishonest.  So don’t do it.  Ever.

That’s how it went, the ‘blue dialogue’ – when I want to know the time, don’t give me blue for an answer.

Ignoring the question is a pretty common phenomena in politics.  Alas.  And last night’s debate was no different.  Both candidates did it much of the night.  But two examples jumped out at me.

First, Mr. Obama and the price of gasoline:

QUESTION [from Phillip Tricolla]  Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it's not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?

ANSWER [Mr. Obama]  The most important thing we can do is to make sure we control our own energy. . . I'm not going to cede those jobs of the future [referring to alternative energy jobs] to those countries. I expect those new energy sources to be built right here in the United States.  That's going to help Jeremy get a job. It's also going to make sure that you're not paying as much for gas. [point when Mr. Obama at least attempts to tie his answer to the question asked].

ANSWER [Mr. Romney, who was no better]  This is about bringing good jobs back for the middle class of America, and that's what I'm going to do.

CROWLEY [recognizing the questioner was not getting an answer]  Mr. President, let me just see if I can move you to the gist of this question, which is, are we looking at the new normal? I can tell you that tomorrow morning, a lot of people in Hempstead will wake up and fill up and they will find that the price of gas is over $4 a gallon.  Is it within the purview of the government to bring those prices down, or are we looking at the new normal?

ANSWER [Mr. Obama]  Candy, there's no doubt that world demand's gone up, but our production is going up, and we're using oil more efficiently. And very little of what Governor Romney just said is true. We've opened up public lands. We're actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration . . . [he flirts with answering the question, but still isn’t there]

ANSWER [Mr. Romney]  If the president's energy policies are working, you're going to see the cost of energy come down.

CROWLEY [still looking for an answer to the question]  Mr. President, could you address, because we did finally get to gas prices here, could you address what the governor said, which is if your energy policy was working, the price of gasoline would not be $4 a gallon here. Is that true?

ANSWER [Mr. Obama]  Well, think about what the governor -- think about what the governor just said. He said when I took office, the price of gasoline was $1.80, $1.86. Why is that? Because the economy was on the verge of collapse, because we were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression, as a consequence of some of the same policies that Governor Romney's now promoting.  So, it's conceivable that Governor Romney could bring down gas prices because with his policies, we might be back in that same mess.

Whether true or not, I do not know, but the problem is Mr. Obama never answered the question of whether or not the government and the Energy Department in particular actually has a role to play in the price of gasoline at the pump.  So here’s a suggestion, Mr. Obama: the answer was yes.  In answer to the question, ‘Do you agree with your Energy Secretary . . .’, the answer is ‘yes’.  Yes, you do agree with him.  This is not rocket science.  It is, I grant you, a political hot potato.  But Republicans and Democrats in this time in history are in agreement.  Gasoline prices are not regulated in the United States.  We made that decision collectively some time ago and have never looked back.  Thus the only direct impact the government has on oil prices is fixing the level of excise taxes.  It’s free market all the way for us.  And for once, that’s probably a (potentially) good thing: the only way we’re likely to reduce our over-consumption of oil is to literally priced out of the market.  All of the other ‘fixes’ are temporary at best.  Why, oh why, oh why, would you not just say so?

And now it’s Mr. Romney’s turn.

QUESTION [question posed by Katherine Fenton] In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn? [Mr. Obama answered first and was directly responsive.  Crowley reminded Mr. Romney of the question, “Governor Romney, pay equity for women?”]

ANSWER [Mr. Romney]  And [sic] important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state [one has to wonder why Mr. Romney didn’t learn about pay equity when he was heading up Bain Capital.  His chief qualification to be president has been touted by him and others as his business experience.  Surely business experience includes at least a rudimentary knowledge of the laws against gender discrimination and the glass ceiling], because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.  And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, "How come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men." They said, "Well, these are the people that have the qualifications." And I said, "Well, gosh, can't we -- can't we find some -- some women that are also qualified?"  And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. [Turns out Mr. Romney is in favor of Affirmative Action.  Who knew?]  I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks," and they brought us whole binders full of women. [And there it is – the laugh line of the night. . . to be fair, Mr. Romney does talk about actively recruiting women to work for him – affirmative action – and flextime, but he never gets close to answering the question posed – never.]

ANSWER [Mr. Obama]  Katherine, I just want to point out that when Governor Romney's campaign was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter bill [referring to the Fair Pay Act of 2009, which effectively extended the statute of limitations for bringing an action against an employer for violating equal pay for equal work], whether he supported it? He said, "I'll get back to you." [Mr. Obama then went on to talk about contraception coverage.  Mr. Romney responded to that, but never addressed the issue of equal pay for equal work and elimination of the glass ceiling.]

The fact is that as I listened to his answer and observed his demeanor, I began to wonder whether Mr. Romney even knows what the glass ceiling refers to, although the questioner certainly gave him a big hint by referring to the ratio of earnings between the genders and given his experience in the private sector, he certainly ought to.  So having ‘helped’ Mr. Obama with an answer, here’s a similar aid for Mr. Romney.  The question was what will you do about the glass ceiling.  Your honest answer, Mr. Romney?  Nothing.

But at least Mr. Romney gave us something fun and funny to play with.  Mr. Obama’s answer didn’t even allow for that.

All joking aside, however, honest answers to sincerely posed questions is a sign of respect as well as competence.  Ducking is cheating.  And no one likes a cheater.

Whatever time it is, Mr. President and Mr. I-would-be-President, the answer is most definitely not ‘blue’.


  1. Good one! I'm going to have to use that...whatever the answer is it is not 'blue'.