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.