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« Guest Posting -- Charles Sestok | Main | More on These Kids These Days »

August 27, 2003

Getting Ready for '04

Friedrich --

I notice that the weirdos who enjoy buzzing about the horse-race side of politics are starting to buzz about the '04 presidential election -- sigh. Still, no way to escape the fuss. So how might the cultureblogworld contribute?

I think I've come up with something useful. You know those appearances where the candidates take questions from the real-Americans in attendance? I'd like to see the cultureblogosphere agitate for a better quality of question. I'll kick it off with the one I'd most like to see asked:

* Mr./Ms. Candidates: We all know that the government screws up at least three out of four things it tries to accomplish. Which means there are a lot of Offices-of and Bureaus-of and Departments-of around these days that are doing little but sucking up money and energy. Please list five governmental programs or departments that you vow to close down, should you be elected.

Got any questions you'd like to see the candidates be asked?



posted by Michael at August 27, 2003


"Mr. Candidate:

We all know that there is a pervasive culture of 'vote-trading' in the legislature. Do you plan to bribe other legislators to support your programs? Will you accept bribes from other legislators to support their programs?"

"Mr. Candidate:

What specific programs do you plan to present to preserve the 9th and 10th ammendments to the Constitution of the United States, a Constitution that you will have to swear to 'preserve, protect, and defend' if you are elected?"

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on August 27, 2003 5:50 PM

Mr/Ms Candidate answers:

"No! I will make no deals with other legislators. In fact I am not sure if I will even talk to them. If they don't like my programs purely on their own merit and without even an explanation, then that is too bad. I am pure! The interests of my constiuents be darned."

When we citizens stop asking for hand-outs, subsidies, programs, call-it-what-you-will, then our representatives will have no cause to make "political deals." (Horrors!) I don't think that there is a lot of votes in a political platform of "I won't do a thing for you."


Sure, we have a lot of jerks in office. But we elected them. No? Underlying much of our (often just) complaints is a sense that we can't change things. And indeed society changes very slowly.

But I think it's a "useful fiction" (at worst) to think of our government as accurately reflecting US, The People. It gives us a sense of empowerment. Like a good suit of clothes, it can help us change our self-image/behavior so that we do in fact vote as if it mattered. It amazes me how many people (I am talking friends/acquaintances etc) complain about government and yet do not vote much less stay informed.

OK, violins down.

Posted by: David Sucher on August 27, 2003 6:33 PM


First, Michael asked for questions, not answers.

Second, would you vote for a candidate that answered the way you did? I know that I wouldn't. What I'm looking for is a candidate that is willing to answer hard questions honestly. I would consider an answer such as yours above either false or dangerously naive, and thus disqualifying. That information would be valuable.

If, on the other hand, the candidate's answer acknowledged both the moral problem and the practical necessity of such political dealmaking, along with a plan for mitigating the negative aspects, I would consider that to be a positive sign. This information would also be valuable.

I stand by the question as asked.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on August 27, 2003 7:04 PM

Didn't anyone here learn from the '92 election? It's not the content that matters, but the context. When Clinton answered that woman's question in one of the '92 debates about the economy by walking directly up to her, he pretty much nabbed the pivotal percentage points that weren't going to Bush and the crazy bastard with the ears and the charts. Ask anyone who was captivated by that image if they remember exactly what Clinton said, and they probably couldn't tell you. (Hell, I can't even remember.) And I'm so cynical to believe that if someone had asked Clinton, "In what way can I kick you in the gonads? And how frequently?" and he did the same thing, the American public would still be enraptured with Clinton's integrity.

For me, this telegenic masterstroke was the ultimate coup in the past twenty years. It had more influence than Bentsen's "You're no Jack Kennedy" bon mot (though that involved aspiring veeps) and as much visual permanence as Nixon sweating like a pig in the 1960 debate with Kennedy. And yet hardly anyone talks about it.

Posted by: Ed on August 27, 2003 7:20 PM

I can tell you what Clinton said:

The woman's question was that with all the blathering about what they were going to do to jumpstart the economy (sound familiar?) she wanted to know how they, three wealthy men, had personally been affected by the bad economy. Bush I stumbled his way through a horrific answer, mumbling about "everybody is concerned about people who have hard times."

Clinton walked toward her, and said, "I can tell by the fact that you asked that, that the economy must have affected you. How has it affected you?" She was charmed---he made her feel heard. He seemed real. And....he never actually answered her question. He sidestepped how the economy had affected him, entirely.

Vintage Clinton, the master of the non-answer-but-sounds-like-he-answered. (Like when they asked him after he rushed back to DC from Martha's Vineyard in the wake of MonicaGate, and bombed Saddam, if he was employing a wag the dog strategy to distract the American public. And he said, "I can't believe the American people would ever think their President would send troops into harm's way for that reason..." As a friend of mine said, a reporter should have yelled out, "Is that a YES or a NO???"). If we'd only been really listening...

The question I'd like asked? Why is the CIA NOT under Homeland Security???

Posted by: annette on August 27, 2003 8:23 PM

the question appears so loaded --- "Do you plan to bribe other legislators to support your programs? Will you accept bribes from other legislators to support their programs?" --- that it demands, to my mind, a rather prissy answer.
The first sentence in which you ask about vote trading is fair and a fair answer would be "of course." Why wouldn't a legislator trade votes on matters about which he or her constituents know little/care little? Seems like common sense to work with people on their issues if they will work with you on yours. But the latter part makes it all sound slimy and dishonest. No?

Posted by: David Sucher on August 27, 2003 10:39 PM

Mr. Candidate:

How do you resemble and differ from Gray Davis?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 28, 2003 2:13 AM

I've got a couple.

Mr. Candidate:

"Are you or have you ever been a Socialist? Explain."

(Okay, it's unAmerican.)

Mr. Candidate:

"What will you do to make trade union finances and political donations more transparent? How will this affect your fund-raising?"

Mr. Candidate:

"How many family members of yours are currently employed as lobbyists? What industries do they represent? How much money did they make?"

Posted by: Andrew Schouten on August 28, 2003 11:43 AM

Mr. Candidate,

Do you think resources and problems are best handled by individual citizens and private organizations, or by government bureaucrats? And what do you promise to do during the first 60 days of your administration to shift control in that direction?

Posted by: Gil on August 28, 2003 1:49 PM


Of course I agree that the question was loaded, but there's a reason for that. Bear with me a bit, and I'll try to explain.

I do some job interviewing (asking rather than answering the questions, he says with his fingers crossed). Unfortunately, there is often a big disconnect between skill as an interview subject and skill at doing a job--some people who might be a perfect fit for a job interview badly, some who might be terrible interview well.

One of the techniques for breaking past the interview persona is to ask unexpected questions and watch the reactions of the subject. This is especially true of people who will have to handle the unexpected in real time (customer service reps, for example).

Campaigning is really no different than an extended and distributed job interview, and all of the candidates are very well coached on the "right" answers to the usual questions. A part of the job of any politician is handling hard questions from hostile questioners gracefully.

My question addressed a real issue ("pork" is the usual description) in a way intended to break past the stock answer, "I'm opposed to pork barrel politics, and when I'm elected I'll work to eliminate it."

How would you propose to get any other than the usual content-free answer on this issue?

The underlying question is how the politician would resolve the conflict between working for the good of the country at the expense of his constituents and working for the good of his constituents at the expense of the country. It's not a new dilemma; it is a crucial one.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on August 28, 2003 1:52 PM

I think we've got some good ones going here. Interesting to notice that few of them have to do with asking the candidates about their plans to initiate huge and ambitious new projects, no? I wonder if there's someplace I can forward these questions along to...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 28, 2003 3:05 PM

My proposal? Conversation, not oration. Not gotcha questions which are usually posed in such a way as to prompt the canned, minimal-risk "speech." A really well-prepped candidate would be able to answer the "bribe" bait, all the while smiling inside.

As a general style, for example, I cannot tolerate Teddy Kennedy even though I agree with the great majority of what he does and I think he's been a fine Senatot. He orates, is bombastic. That bores me.

I'd much rather simply get the person talking so that the truer person starts to come out.

For example, I was coming back from Mexico and the very clever US Customs Agent said something so totally off-hand and innocent...something casual like "Learn much Spanish?" that got me chatting while he fiddled with my bag...the whole thing only took 30 seconds but I realized later that I had revealed something (and I can't even remember now what it was) that told him that I was not a problem.

So I'd continue in the style of your first question and see if i could get them talking about how the political sausage machine actually works. Of course as political deal-making between elected officials doesn't bother me in principle as it is simply part of life --- "Honey, maybe after we go to Nordstroms for your shoes we could stop off at Costco for a moment? I think they have that pressure washer I want" --- that train of thought probably would prompt me more towards "How do we, as your constituents, know that you are a good deal-maker?"

Posted by: David Sucher on August 28, 2003 3:23 PM

Mr. Candidate, why are you always a man?

No, seriously-

Candidate, any chance that you and the people who brought you here might crawl off into a hole and die?

Truly seriously -

I would review the candidate's record and ask about specific policies or votes. (Assuming the candidate, unlike Ah-nold, had a history.) You can do this, you know, by US Mail. With any candidate you like. You'll get a nice form letter that doesn't answer your question, particularly, and lots of junk mail.

Posted by: j.c. on August 28, 2003 4:15 PM

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