Tough Questions for Democrats and Republicans (Which They Never Answer)

The macro-problem: politicians don’t have to answer questions. They only have to pretend to answer them.  You know the phenomenon as well as I.  A journalist asks, “Why did you vote against immigration reform when you said you wanted to see it happen?”  Politician: “I believe the American people . . .”–and blah, blah, blah.

Another problem, of course, is that Congresspersons and Senators routinely come out and give a “briefing,” at which they spray talking-points on journalists and cameras, and then take no questions.

The micro-problem: Politicians almost seem never to have to answer, in an accountable way, questions about deep contradictions their Party-membership and their Party’s claims reveal.


Democrats should have to answer questions about the fracking-o-rama, which is regularly causing earthquakes and poisoning water-systems.  The Party of environmentalism?  Oh, really?

Republicans should have to answer questions about race-baiting. Reagan’s “Welfare Queen,” one of the great political marketing scams; Bush the Elder’s Willie Horton ad; Jim Demint on Obama: “We will break him”; birthers; going further with the no-compromise strategy than ever before–to satisfy the rabid racists back home and even in some cases to the detriment of the Party.

Democrats should have to answer questions about Black Americans’ continuing plight with regard to unemployment, incarceration, and ineffective education.

Republicans should have to answer questions about how trigger-happy they are.  McCain chides Kerry and Obama for being “weak” in the Ukraine and Syria, so we must conclude that he wants “boots on the ground,” even after Secretary Gates (while still Secretary), a Republican, said that any President who put boots on the ground in the Middle East should have his head examined. If only he had stressed as much before Bush’s two wars.

The Democrats should have to answer questions about more or less dead cities, or at least parts thereof, like Newark, Detroit, and New Orleans.  Why not a domestic Marshall Plan for such cities?  Why is it okay for a nation to let cities die?

The Republicans, in a most thorough fashion, should have to answer questions about science. Do they in fact adhere to the scientific method, broadly?  If so, why oppose its results re: global warming?  And so on.

Both parties must be made (as if!) to answer the Empire question.  The “defense” budget of the U.S. is greater than the defense budgets of all other nations, combined–including China and Russia.  And yet this super-power of ours, this economic juggernaut, has to pretend to choose between healthcare for all (which every industrialized state has provided for years) and the monstrous defense budget.  And by any mainstream definition, the U.S. is an empire.

I know: it’s hopeless.  The chat-shows are ludicrous when it comes to questions and answers.  Everyone on the show wears the same makeup. Everyone lives in “this town,” D.C. Everyone is hip-deep in bullshit. Everyone must squeeze out a few canned lines before commercial-break.

Only if a few mavericks–in the mold, say, of Ron Paul, Barnie Frank, Alan Simpson, and Bernie Sanders–began appearing on a show in which questions really did have to get answered, straight-up; and only if such appearances became noteworthy and popular; only then, I think, would we have a chance. The marketing-pitch would have to be, “Are you brave enough to answer questions on [name of show here]?”  “Are you brave enough to stipulate some agreed-upon facts before the questioning begins?”

But even if a politician said “Yes, I am fearless!”, the handlers would say, “Not so much!”


Salazar’s Answer to Sanders Gushes

In a recent senatorial hearing, Senator Bernie Sanders asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar whether a savings of 3 cents per gallon of gas in 2030 [the estimated effect of oil produced from offshore drilling on market-costs] is worth the risks of off-shore drilling and whether the Obama administration will now re-institute a moratorium on offshore drilling. The answers were yes and no–I think–but they showed up only after a rhetoric pipeline gushed verbiage for 5 minutes of the 6-minute video. Also, raising MPG standards to 35 MPG would, according to Sanders, save a buck a gallon by 2030. Anyway, listen to the bureau-rhetorical leak if you dare:


Incidentally, what Bush II policies hasn’t President Obama supported? –Not a rhetorical question, just one to which I don’t have a ready answer.

The Public Option, The Contested Term


When I teach writing-and-rhetoric to first-year college students, I and they emphasize the need clearly to define pivotal terms (words, phrases, labels) for the audience and then proceed to stick with those definitions–or to announce, in plain view, that, for good reasons (which one must provide) one is redefining a term. These kinds of transparency and care are in service of arguing fairly–of stating and explaining one’s argument to and for an audience one respects.

Defining terms and arguing fairly in politics? Not so much.

For example, I give you–and myself–the term “the public option,” in the context of health-care reform.

To me “the public option” has come to mean that a variety of insurance companies will write health-care insurance plans that the federal government will collect and then present, for potential purchase by individuals or businesses, to citizens. Allegedly, one purpose of the government’s serving as an intermediary is to gather plans that are relatively reasonable (with regard to cost and to health-care underwritten) and thereby a) provide insurance to those who don’t have any or to those who can’t afford what they have and b) provide additional competition to large insurance-companies so that they might be tempted to lower costs and/or expand coverage.

In a nutshell-paragraph, that’s what “the public option” has come to mean to me. Whether this option is a good thing or a bad thing or a good-and-bad thing–I’ll pass on that question, partly because I haven’t studied the details or studied others’ studies of the details. I will admit that the status quo with health-care in the U.S. is a disaster in progress.

To those who, for one reason or many, seem to oppose almost any kind of health-care reform, except perhaps the oblique “tort-reform,” “the public option” means . . . what? “A government[al] takeover.” “Socialized medicine.” “Rationed health-care.” “Unfair competition.” “Socialism.” “Communism.” “Big brother.” An attack on “the free market.”

. . . –The obvious point being that if people are trying to conduct a genuine debate about a policy-proposal, they will fail (or they will succeed in stalling debate, if that is their aim) when they cannot or will not agree on what a key term of the debate is.

If Bernie Sanders were to debate Orrin Hatch about “the public option,” I would prefer there to be a referee present to control the debate, and not to let the debate proceed unless and until Sanders and Hatch (for example) agreed what the basic elements of “the public option” were. Then it might be worth one’s while to listen.

But that’s not the way politics, politicians, and media work. That would be too easy–and careful and transparent.

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