Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gotcha!

On December 23 of 2007 Ron Paul was interviewed by Tim Russert on Meet The Press. Russert promptly dove into his bucket of hypothetical questions and Ron Paul, in the first ten minutes of that interview, provided the best deconstruction of American political "journalism" I've seen.

Usually, interviewees who are combative with this style of hypothetical-question-laced interview, which is pervasive in America's televised political coverage, fare poorly. They are forced to play the game - or risk looking evasive not answering - and respond to such facile questions as Wolf Blitzer's raise-your-hand-yes-or-no at one of the debates during the Democratic primaries: “The United States should use military force to stop the genocide in Darfur."

Chief amongst these hypothetical wizards was NBC Washington Bureau Chief, Tim Russert. Russert's tactic was to lock politicians into positions on subjects which were amorphous and protean; positions that the subject would likely have to change if he or she gave a definitive answer thus allowing Russert to call them on their flip-flop at a later engagement on Meet The Press. Take, for instance, this question posed by Russert to Obama at a primary debate: “Will you pledge that by January 2013, the end of your first term more than five years from now, there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq?” Obama played it well saying it would be "irresponsible" to make predictions about something five years in the future. To Russert, though, that was evasive.



In the Russert-Paul interview, the first hypothetical question, and Paul's first great moment, comes at about the 4 min 25 sec mark. Paul has been talking about eliminating the income tax and making up for the lost revenue by bringing home the 500,000+ US troops stationed around the world in places like Korea, Europe, etc. Russert asks if, under a Ron Paul presidency, the United States would invade if North Korea attacked South Korea. Paul handles this one civilly by noting that we have been more of an obstruction to Korean reconciliation than an aid. Paul mentions Vietnam and our exit "under the worst possible circumstances" which led to a reconciled Vietnam that is now a major trading partner with the United States.

The real jem of the interview is at about 5 min 15 sec. Russert asks, "if Iran invaded Israel, what do we do?"

Paul responds: "Well, they're not going to. That is like saying 'Iran is about to invade Mars.' I mean they have nothing, they don't have an army, a navy, an air force, and Israelis have 300 nuclear weapons, nobody would touch them. But no, if it were in our national security interests and Congress said, 'this is very very important, we have to declare war.' But presidents don't have the authority to declare war."

Not only does Paul debunk a scenario which has a whole lot of respect in the United States and most people would probably, actually, consider a plausible scenario, he also points out Russert's support of Bush-style executive power when he says that presidents do not have the power to declare war. This might seem a minor point, but it is not. The idea of the almighty executive is so ingrained in the American mind after eight years of preeminance of David Addington's revised "theory of the unitary executive" that journalists, interviewers, many amongst the press, take it as a given. To make a point that George Orwell made in "Politics and the English Language" - "the slovinliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." Like accepting the Bush doctrine that presidents can wage war unilaterally.

Russert is dead, of course, so he's not asking anymore of these questions, but plenty of his compatriots are picking up the slack. This brand of questioning has to end. Paul was able to blow Russert's model up in his face because of the liberty afforded an outsider candidate to say what he or she thinks without the risk of losing an election they'd already had no shot at. But mainstream candidates often do not push back hard enough. Neither Obama, nor Clinton, nor McCain put their foot down Paul-style while they encountered wave after wave of foolish questioning, preferring instead to preserve their wiggle room and play the game to the smallest extent possible.

Like Kenneth from "30 Rock" said, "I don't believe in hypothetical situations... that's like lying to your brain."

4 comments:

Ike said...

Ron Paul, fucking educated dude. It's a terrible thing that he's been marginalized and almost mocked for certain things he believes in because most of his stances are clear-headed and unbelievably refreshing. I say points off for shitty media, but points for Ron Paul dropping serious history on almost everyone who talks to him.

muffine said...

i like your point about asking bs questions and expecting anything more but bs answers in response. (rip tim) but what did/do you make of http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=74978161-f730-43a2-91c3-de262573a129 ?

Ol Mucky said...

Yeah, Paul's a bit of a Looney-Tune. But I'm not advocating his policies (althought I think he's right we're more of a pest than anything in Korea), I didn't support his campaign. I just think he treated Russert's questions with the kind of "What is this crap?" attitude they required.

muffine said...

i can agree with that.