Reporter's Note: President Obama and Mitt Romney went after each other in last night’s debate, and today everyone is discussing who won, who lost, and what that does or doesn’t mean to the election. I have no answers; just another letter to the White House.
Dear Mr. President,
By now you must be sick of all the comments that are swirling in the wake of the debate last night. It seems as if a lot of people think you “won” by a small margin, and less think that Romney edged you, but the truth is no one knows anything. All that nattering is speculation and guesswork, and in the end we can’t even establish a reliable cause and effect between debates and election results anyway.
So if you feel like you made some important points and clarified matters a bit, you should take that for victory and move on. Same for Mitt Romney. There is, after all, one more debate to go and as soon as it rolls around, no one is going to be talking so much about what happened in this one.
All of that said, I would like to ask something: Would it be so very hard to answer at least one question in a straightforward manner next time?
Time after time, the nice people at the debate stood up to ask clear, direct questions about the economy, gas prices, guns, women’s rights, foreign affairs, and I cannot recall a single time that either one of you answered directly. In each instance, you launched into long stories about some event in your past, or tortured explanations of some program you supported, or a series of attacks on your opponent. By the time either one of you looped back around to the question, it was clear you never really intended to answer it in the first place.
Let me paraphrase an example, as best I can remember it: Should it be the Energy Department’s job to keep gas prices low?
The answer to such a question typically begins with either a “yes” or a “no,” but not with you guys. Instead the poor person who threw that one on the floor received long-winded explanations of your joint ideas on energy. Yes, in a very round about way you answered the question…but only sort of. A much better approach, I think, would have been: “No. It has not been the policy of the Energy Department to manipulate gas prices. That is the business of the private sector. That said, I do think if we pursue sensible energy development policies, we will have a strong and steady supply of oil and gas free of undue dependence on supplies from nations that may not like us. That stability will probably help keep prices low.”
I think one of the fundamental reasons people don’t trust politicians is this tendency to skate around the edges of answers as if you are terrified of saying anything solid for fear of being held to it later. So do me…and yourself…a favor. At the next debate, try to start with the simplest, most direct answer, then expand out from there if need be. I think the audience may be pleasantly surprised to hear a political leader be so straightforward.
Call if you can.
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