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A Solution To The Problem Of Roaring Mouths Saying Nothing

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A Solution To The Problem Of Roaring Mouths Saying Nothing


It was in 2008, the debate between vice-presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin. Biden had just scored his opponent for failing to directly answer a question from moderator Gwen Ifill. But Palin was hardly apologetic. “I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear,” she snapped, “but I’m going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also.”

In other words, she felt no particular obligation to answer the questions she was asked. Her obligation was to her talking points.

Not to pick on Palin. Truth is, there are few things more fully bipartisan than ducking a question. The art of making sound while saying nothing has become so ordinary and ubiquitous a part of politics as to defy notice, like wallpaper. The process takes on the flavor of twice-chewed gum, the players playing their prescribed roles in which interviewers pretend to believe they will get straight answers and politicians pretend to believe they have given them. And then TV and radio pundits spin the nothing that was said, tell us who to blame, who to scorn, who to fear, at decibel levels that would humble a jet engine.

Robert Kilmer has had enough. And he proposes a solution. Namely, a television series in which public figures debate the issues of the day under two simple rules: (1) the participants must answer questions directly and, (2) they must do so without making reference to their opponent’s argument, party or ideology.

“In other words,” says Kilmer, “you have to show up with a solution and defend it. You’re going to be asked follow-up questions. Your statements are going to be fact checked in real time and appear on the screen.” The moderator will be empowered to enforce those rules.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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  1. young lady July 30, 2012

    Great idea, would love to see it!

    Here is a bit of advice, though. Don’t expect Republicans to participate. They have no rhetoric other than talking points. The first time one is asked a question and not allowed to skirt it, the host will be labeled a crazy liberal who asks “gotcha” questions and repubs will refuse to “lower” themselves to that level.

    1. Bob Daniel August 4, 2012

      But the questions that are being asked ARE important! I think this is a great idea, but I would submit to you the questions being asked often are slanted. The most important issue to consider is “How do we come up with the questions?” I think politicians in both parties are pretty good at just saying whatever the hell they want to, and not answering direct questions.

      That being said, I’ll go on to say that neither party is going to save us, based on the way things are going. As long as we, the American public, keep getting distracted by picking a party brand, then we will not focus on the big issues. We’ll just all act like bad parents at a kids soccer game, yelling at the refs and each other, and accomplishing nothing (just like our congress!)

  2. Nenny July 30, 2012

    I just want to know when will Mitt Romney put before the American public his actual tenure at Bain; why was he getting paid there and signing documents; and, his tax information for more than one year he has given us? His duckings/dodgings and ubiquitous answers just don’t fit a man who really wants to be the American people’s president. Please, let people continuously ask him; because, I believe, he wants the American people to break and forget his past. If anyone ought to break, it should be Mitt Romney. Let him give us the answers we want–the informations concerning his background!

  3. Gary Graham July 30, 2012

    I hope Mr. Kilmer’s crusade is not quixotic. His quest is on point. Our public discourse has become so fractured we no longer take particular note of non-replies to questions. Interviewers of high caliber such as Gwen Ifell are constrained by the current conventions so that they are not allowed to pursue until questions are answered. We all lose in this environment. We confuse mere quarrel with inquiry and argument.
    This condition is symptomatic of a larger threat to our society, the privatization of our educational establishment and dumbing down of America. But that’s another story.

  4. Joan Maurer July 30, 2012

    What is wrong with this country is- when we allowed a member of Congress, in speaking on the floor of Congress to give false statistics and then say;”my statements were not intened to be factual.” Apparently factual statements are a unreasonable expectation.

  5. howa4x July 30, 2012

    Great idea but that would mean getting the money out of politics fror attack adds and even the Supreme court dosen’t want that

  6. anideafromseattle July 30, 2012

    Oh, How many times I have wished that a moderator would say, “that was a very nice speech Mr/Ms Candidate, but do you think you could answer the question I asked. If the moderator has to repeat it a half dozen times, maybe the voting public would realize that the “debates” on television are not debates, but rather political advertising. Unless you have a moderator who takes their journalistic credentials seriously, you just get talking points. There must be one ” journalist” out there that would be willing to put their reputation on the line and actually do what they were trained to do.

  7. Landsende July 30, 2012

    Wonderful idea. I don’t want to hear what you think the other candidate is doing. I want to hear what your plan is for the country and how you would carry it out and what the consequences would be from it. No equivocating. Just answer the question. Romney has said he will repeal the health care law but has not said if he will replace it with something else or just continue to let health care costs to rise. If he cuts taxes for the rich and corporations how will he make up the lost revenue. What is he going to do about climate change. Both candidates should be honest and not promise if elected they will do A, B and C because without the cooperation of congress they can’t make good on those promises.

  8. Cleaning4Men August 1, 2012

    And if the Republicans refuse to this format, then just go on without them. Please…

  9. Robert P. Robertson August 2, 2012

    If Republicans are asked questions that stump them or that may pull the covers off of them, they will tell you directly “Kiss my ass!” There are man-eating Republicans out there, so moderators would be wise to bring along handlers.

  10. Gina De Franco August 15, 2012

    Kindly advise where we can send you a press release on Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Contact:kelly@ilmdefranco.com


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