Friday, October 8, 2010

When Politicians Are Forced to Answer Yes/No Questions

How many times have you watched a political debate and felt exasperated because the candidates wouldn’t answer the actual question posed to them? And how many times have you wished that candidates would answer simple yes/no questions with a simple “yes” or “no” without dissembling and trying to obfuscate their response? Well earlier this week, some voters in Indianapolis had a chance to see what happens when candidates are pressed to answer hard questions with a yes or no. And the results, I believe, say much more about each of the candidates than many of their detailed answers to more complicated questions.

On Wednesday, October 6, 2010, the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council hosted a candidate forum. Candidates for the Indiana General Assembly from many districts in and around downtown and the north side of Indianapolis were invited to participate. Thirteen did so. Each of the candidates was given a chance to make a brief opening statement before questions were asked. Unfortunately, because of the number of candidates and the need to give each an opportunity to respond, there was only time for three detailed and substantive questions (how to address Indiana’s fiscal crisis, health care, and immigration).

But after those three questions were asked and answered, the forum moved on to the “Lightning Round”. Before beginning the Lightning Round, the moderator Dr. Judy Failer, professor of Political Science and American Studies at Indiana University, explained to the candidates that they were expected to give “yes” or “no” answers and she even had them practice saying “yes” and “no” before she asked the questions (which had been submitted by members of the audience). Below are videos of four of the five questions (the fifth question asked the candidates if they’d support taxing services to raise funds for education). I apologize for the quality; this was my first time using my iPhone to try to take this kind of video for the web (you may want to turn up the volume to hear better).

The candidates (from left to right) are:

Senate District 29:

Sen. Mike Delph (R), incumbent

Robin Shackleford (D)

House District 86:

Rep. Ed Delaney (D), incumbent

Kurt Webber (R)

House District 88:

Rep. Brian Bosma (R), incumbent, current minority leader

Dr. John Kunzer (D)

House District 92 (note that the Democratic candidate was scheduled to attend, but canceled following the death of his father several days earlier):

Rep. Phil Hinkle (R), incumbent

Jason Sipe (L)

House District 94:

Clint Fultz (R)

Rep. Cherish Pryor (D), incumbent

House District 97:

Rep Mary Ann Sullivan (D), incumbent

House District 99:

Rep. Vanessa Summers (D), incumbent

House District 96:

David Dessauer (R/L) [I’m not sure if Mr. Dessauer is a Republican or Libertarian; he had not RSVP’d for the event and showed up about 15 minutes late and asked to participate]

So on with the questions:

Question #1: Do you believe in evolution?


Question #2: Would you require a woman who is raped to carry the fetus to term?


Question #3: Is global warming real and man made?


Question #4: Do you support civil unions?


I guess that I’m not terribly surprised by the answers to the questions regarding evolution and global warming (though I was a bit taken aback by Kurt Webber’s insistence that his beliefs on these subjects didn’t matter and by the fact that several candidates used responded “I don’t know” to the question of global warming). The suggestion that these issues aren’t meaningful at the state legislative level is nonsense; after all, state legislators can be actively engaged in pollution regulation and carbon control at the state level and are also very much involved in establishing the curriculum for state schools. And for a incumbent legislator to suggest that global warming is “a figment of man’s imagination” tells me precisely how that legislator views science.

And I was somewhat relieved to see that several candidates who weren’t Democrats did support civil unions, though none of the incumbent Republicans did so (including Rep. Bosma who, if the Republicans win control of the House, will become Speaker again). And note that the question was not same-sex marriage, but simply civil unions. So those three Republican incumbents would deny homosexuals the right not only to marry, but also to enter into some kind of lesser union. I’d really like to hear them explain how same-sex marriage, let alone civil unions, threatens their marriages.

But the question (and answers) that absolutely stunned me was whether the candidate would require a woman who is raped to carry the fetus to term. Just think about that proposition for a moment. Short of murder, rape probably the most heinous, vicious crime that can be committed against a person. And yet every single incumbent Republican (with one “pass” – but remember that he said “life begins at the moment of conception to explain his “no” on the evolution question) and each of the Republican candidates, would require a woman who is raped to carry her rapist’s fetus to term. I can’t begin to imagine the anguish that a woman would feel going through pregnancy, knowing that the fetus was the product of a rape. Every time the fetus kicks, the woman would be reminded of the rape. And when the baby is delivered, what emotion would be preeminent? What of the woman’s husband, knowing that the child is not his, but that of someone who assaulted his wife? And what are we to do with the baby, once delivered? I’m sure that the callous would simply say, “if you don’t want it, put it up for adoption,” but I’m sure those same people are the ones who aren’t willing to appropriate sufficient funds to care for those children and probably would oppose a same-sex couple from adopting the product of a rape. Oh, and I note that all of those Republicans are men.

I understand that abortion can be a complex and controversial issue, but the fact that so many Republicans have veered so far to the right that they are no longer even interested in exceptions for rape (and what about incest?) tells me quite a bit of what I need to know to understand the worldview of these candidates.

Keep these answers in mind when you go to the polls in November.

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At Friday, October 08, 2010 10:21:00 PM , Anonymous Steph Mineart said...

I can begin to imagine it - that happened to me. You're pretty much spot on, and this particular issue is a huge issue for me. I hate to be a signal-issue voter, but in some cases there are no other options: and forcing a rape victim to give birth to their rapist's baby is an absolute deal-breaker for me. I wouldn't even consider another thing that politician had to say.

At Saturday, October 09, 2010 12:27:00 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Thanks for posting. Just a question: were these the only questions asked. They seem to be designed to put a republican in a tough spot. Had they asked whether the candidates support gay marriage it would have put the democrats in a tough spot. Did they ask anything like that?

At Saturday, October 09, 2010 10:56:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...


The fifth question concerned whether candidates would tax services to pay for education. Had there been more time, it would have been interesting to have the "Lightning Round" continue and ask other questions. I'm not sure that they were designed to put Republicans in a tough spot as much as they seem to be designed to get to the core of certain types of attitudes that are important to the particular segment of the electorate that showed up for the forum.

At Thursday, October 14, 2010 1:17:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

here is my question, if you truly believe that life begins at conception, how can you allow for an abortion under the rape scenario? It's still a "life" and according to them it would be equivalent to murder!


At Thursday, October 14, 2010 1:46:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...


I'm not sure if that query was directed at me or rhetorically at the Republicans in the video. In any event, I don't believe that life begins at conception. For more discussion on this issue, plese see this older post from my blog: Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State's Laws.

At Thursday, October 14, 2010 2:31:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i meant it as a question to you. you are SHOCKED that they would say "no" to that question, but if they truly believe that its life (even after they read your post) - should they not fight for what they believe in?

i personally believe as you do, that is not life yet - but for those that do, why such outrage from you that they would say "no"?


At Thursday, October 14, 2010 2:57:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...


It's not outrage per se; rather, it's a bit of shock that the long-standing, common exceptions for rape and incest seem to have been abandoned. This isn't particularly suprising vis-a-vis what an honestly held anti-abortion position means, but it is surprising given that the "no exceptions" viewpoint is further evidence of the Republicans' lurch to the right and is also further right than what most polling data over the years has shown the public does and does not support.

It seems that those who oppose exceptions have usually managed to keep that position relatively quiet. This year, though, that position has taken on a prominent plank in many platforms. That may be good in this apparent Republican mood, but that will be a tough position to live down in the future.

I was also surprised that they did answer "yes" without trying to wiggle or moderate given the audience to whom they were speaking.

At Thursday, October 14, 2010 4:43:00 PM , Anonymous Greg M. said...

Thanks for your work, Mike. One wonders about global warming, and whether right-wingers at the state level--probably too low-level to get the kind of oil money James Inhofe and Joe Barton get--disbelieve science because they don't know any better, or because they don't care what the science says, they just know it's a way to get liberals angry.

At Thursday, October 14, 2010 7:45:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...

I don't think it's about getting liberals angry. I suspect it's not much different than the Catholic Church refusing to believe and accept that the Earth orbits the sun and not the other way around. It comes from a mindset stuck in the 1950s with "Leave it to Beaver" or "Ozzie & Harriet" on the TV where man (note: man, not human) is the master of everything that he surveys. They know that creation is true because that's what they were told growing up and nobody tolerated, let alone suggested, questioning what was taught from the pulpit. Add to that the near worship of "business" with the laissez-faire approach to capitalism that so many Republicans endorse. With those worldviews cemented, it becomes very hard to comprehend that perhaps, just perhaps, what you've learned and believed, might, just might, be subject to question and criticism. And from there, it becomes almost like a knee-jerk reflex action to strike out and denounce any idea that challenges the mental status quo. Apply that reasoning to any number of other issues and you get the same result: Gay marriage? Check. Freedom of religion for religions other than Christianity? Check. Vaccines? Check. Working with other countries rather than carrying a bigger stick? Check. A black in the White House? Check.

At Friday, October 15, 2010 7:54:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the "if you believe life begins at conception, how can you allow abortion for rape victims" question:

I'll draw a little analogy here. Suppose someone is dying of leukemia and no willing marrow donor is available. Should the state be allowed--no, not just allowed, but legally required--to kidnap a compatible donor and forcibly extract her bone marrow repeatedly over a nine-month period?

A woman has the right not to have her body used as an incubator against her will. Even if that means somebody dies. Talking about rape victims clarifies the issue because it leaves no room for quibbling over the definition of "against her will." (Which is not to say someone won't try to do it anyway. Cue victim-blaming.)

At Sunday, October 31, 2010 6:40:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Clint Fultz candidate for Indiana House 94. The lightning round left no time for full thought. As to the abortion question, I said yes. Let me differentiate. If there IS proof of rape I would allow the termination of the pregnancy within the first 8 weeks. If all that we have is a claim of rape and no proof, then I would require carriage to term.

Please visit -

At Monday, November 01, 2010 1:39:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...

Mr. Fultz:

Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog. As you can probably guess, I strongly disagree with you position. However, instead of addressing your comment and my thoughts here, I've posted an updated blog entry: When Politicians Are Forced to Answer Yes/No Questions: A Candidate Responds.

(Note that I have not removed the link to your campaign website; however, I want to be clear to any readers that I do not endorse Mr. Fultz's candidacy.)

At Wednesday, November 24, 2010 4:16:00 PM , Anonymous Mike Soh said...

I discovered your blog when I searched google "why can't politicians answer yes or no questions"

For complete openness and honesty, I am a very strong conservative and tend to vote republican. I am commenting in the hopes to open dialog and not start a flame war.

First off, I agree that how these politicians answered yes/no questions reveal more than a full drawn-out response. I wish more people did this. I absolutely hate it when a politican waffers, sitting on a fence waiting for the wind to blow.

I have found that most political screaming matches are a result of either misunderstanding the counterpoints or refusing to understand them. I can't do anything about the latter but I can help with the former.

I believe abortion in all forms is wrong, including rape and incest. Abortion is a very complex and emotional topic so I hope you (and your readers) will allow me to explain why.

As a Christian, I believe life begins at conception. Without going into "what do you believe that means", I believe that terminating this life without cause is murder. If you hold a different view, I'm not going to force my view down your throat. I condemn anyone who torches or bombs abortion centers and will never support anyone going around killing innocent people because they believe something differnt. Dispite what they may say, they are not doing God's work.

I agree that outside of murder, rape is the worst violent crime. If one subscribes to the belief that a fetus is an actual human life, why would you kill it because of the actions of another?

Do not misunderstand that I do not think what happened to that woman is horrible. I believe that she will endure much more suffering as a result of carrying the fetus to term. However, I believe it would be just as wrong to say one life is worth more than another.

I hope this helps explain at least a Christian conservative view of abortion. I'm not asking for people to agree with it. I'm simply asking people to understand it.

(PS: I plan on praising your post in my blog later today.)


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