Why should we respect politicians who don't answer the questions they are asked?
Recently, CNN's Wolf Blitzer was interviewing Nikki Haley, the Republican Governor of South Carolina, about the current field of contenders for the GOP presidential nomination. One of the questions was about the "disagreement" between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry on whether or not climate change is man made.
Apparent front-runner Mitt Romney believes the world is getting warmer and that humans contribute to the pattern. Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday called that "a scientific theory that has not been proven."
Okay, Perry doesn't like science. He knows this view will appeal to a lot of idiots who also call themselves Republicans. I don't care.
But when Governor Haley was asked which side of this debate she came down on, she did what many politicians, of all stripes, do all too often. The way she answered was to say something like "what Americans really care about are jobs."
I know why she avoided the question. Giving a direct answer would have perhaps suggested support for either Romney or Perry, and she's not ready to go there. I don't even know if she has a stated opinion on the matter, which, if she did, would only make her answer more foolish.
It is well known that politicians are trained to say whatever they want to say no matter what question is asked. It even has a name. It's called "message discipline." I'm not sure, though, why any self-respecting journalist would embarrass himself by having a direct question ignored.
Think about how you'd feel if in the real world you asked someone what time it was and they answered by saying that it was supposed to rain this afternoon. Welcome to the world of politics.
Perversely, we even consider good message discipline to be the mark of a talented politician and the approach of answering questions too directly the sign of a political neophyte.
When Haley dodged the question, Blizter should have quickly said, "would you mind answering my question?" And then, every time she failed to answer, he should have stopped and respectfully asked that she try again.
I think we could even give this approach a name. It would be called "question discipline." Whenever a politician came on an interview program they would be told what to expect, that they answer direct questions or the interview would not move on.
I know some in the media already do this, but not nearly enough.
I also know I'm dreaming and that this will never happen, but our political discourse would be better if it did. And the only way it will ever change is if journalists start doing their jobs differently.
(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)