By Jen Green
Have you seen that AE Dairy Greek yogurt commercial? The one with the busts of Greek philosophers Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates extolling the virtues of the creamy snack food? All’s going well until poor Plato spews out some very intelligent-sounding philosophical statement . . . only to be met with silence. What he says sounds really good . . . the only problem is he doesn’t really say anything.
Political speeches are a lot like that sometimes. Ok—often. When the “sounds good/says nothing” tactic really rears its ugly head, though, is in question and answer time when an audience member asks a well-thought out, probing question about a pressing but controversial issue. The coached, coiffed, well-versed answer that ensues provides excellent sound bites for the evening news, but does little to answer the actual question.
Here in Iowa, because we’re the “first in line” so to speak, maybe we don’t notice those “say nothings” as much . . . or maybe we’re too nice to say anything when they happen. We take politics very seriously here, but, we are to the end, congenial. We enjoy our first-in -line status, we welcome the candidates into our state, our stages, our coffee houses, even our homes. Then they leave us to go to New Hampshire, South Carolina, etc. Are we paying attention to what they say when they move on?
For example, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was in New Hampshire last week after spending time here in Iowa. At a home meeting, he was asked point blank what he thought about ethanol. He launched into an answer about his energy plan, energy independence, and the reality of government subsidies. The questioner was not satisfied with his answer, and pushed him for more specifics on where Pawlenty stood on ethanol. Pawlenty did not give a direct answer, but again talked about his energy plan.
It’s not an enviable position to be in, grant you, and I’m not trying to pick on Governor Pawlenty. Rick Santorum faced the same issue in New Hampshire with the ethanol issue. According to some, his answer in Iowa was different from his answer in New Hampshire. So, we’re left to wonder, exactly how do these two candidates plan to handle the ethanol issue once they get into office?
The truth is, many folks in New Hampshire feel much differently about ethanol than folks in Iowa do. Candidates, to be President of the United States, arguably have to win or do very well in at least one of those states. Therefore, their political survival may hinge on their ability to give a very nice-sounding “non-answer.”
When candidates leave New Hampshire, arguably a very secular state, they then head to the Bible-belt. Are we watching to see if their campaign speeches change from state to state? Are they making different promises, or delivering non-answers?
Campaign managers say, “Know your audience and give them what they want.” Should we be okay with that? Should we be willing to accept “sweet nothings” when the Presidency is on the line? Empty rhetoric may help a candidate win an election, but it sure doesn’t help them run a country. Maybe it’s time for some tough follow-up questions…
…NPR has been in the news a lot lately and none of it is good. So, when they and their partner The New Republic recently crowned Tim Pawlenty as the GOP front runner, I’m sure it gave Pawlenty’s “campaign” pause. But, when you peruse their reasoning, it’s remarkably sound. Jonathan Chait summarizes after a process of elimination based on electability, ideology, and record that Pawlenty is the only candidate who will be acceptable to both the elite of the GOP and the base of the GOP. It’s a refreshingly honest assessment…
…Kudos to pro-family groups in Maryland who showed the country what solidarity on marriage can do even in the face of certain defeat. Gay marriage opponents had all but declared victory in the state, saying that the bill to allow same-sex marriage was a lock to pass. Marriage and family organizations rallied their grassroots support, asking them to put pressure on their legislators. It worked. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, a freshman Democrat, actually withdrew her support of the bill after hearing from so many of her constituents. Groups promised legislators difficult primaries if they voted “yes” on the bill. It was tabled today, meaning it will have to sit for at least another year. Nearly one third of the Democrats in their House opposed the bill. Seems they have something in Maryland we don’t have in Iowa: Democrats who can think for themselves….
…St. Louis’s chamber of commerce recently canceled an event featuring Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A. Local gay and lesbian groups wrote a letter to the chamber complaining about Mr. Cathy’s support of “anti-gay hate” groups like Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage. The chamber decided Cathy’s values did not align with their own, so they canceled they event in the name of “diversity.”
Anyone hungry for chicken? I know I am.