January 24, 2013

I am a little confused, based on the Benghazi testimony of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, as to what a question is.

I ask merely for information.

There were these brief pauses during Clinton’s testimony, when senators and representatives offered long harangues about what had gone wrong. They were labeled questions. Some of them even ended in question marks. But labeling something a question does not necessarily make it so. As Dave Weigel quipped on Twitter, “Congressmen are the people at book readings who say ‘I have more of a comment than a question.’ ”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), for instance, offered the following, according to the CNN transcript: “Secretary Clinton, first, congratulations, and thank you for your extraordinary service to our country during these past four years as secretary of state. I believe the world is safer today, because America is better understood around the world. And you have been instrumental in integrating diplomacy in our national security agenda, and I thank you for that, because I do think it has paid off in heavy dividends for the American people. I particularly want to acknowledge your leadership in advancing basic rights. Senator [Barbara] Boxer already acknowledged the gender equity issues that you have taken international leadership on. I also want to thank you for your help in dealing with corruption ….”

Several paragraphs pass in much the same fashion.

“Syria — Assad’s not going to be there, we think, much longer. There’s lots of weapons in Syria. Are we — do we have a strategy to make sure, as we go through transition in countries, that their — their weapons are — we’re mindful that these weapons could end up harming U.S. interests. And it needs to be part of our strategy to make sure, as we support alternative governments and — and rebels, that there is a strong priority in protecting the source of these weapons, not ending up harming Americans or harming our interests.”

There was a question in there, but you had to exhume for a bit.

Not all of them succumbed to the impulse. But just in case, for future reference, here are some helpful ways of distinguishing questions from … discursive statements.


Flowcharts are the new Venn Diagrams.

Then again, Clinton’s most buzzed answer, in response to Ron Johnson’s grilling about the obscured motives of the attack on the consulate, was “What difference, at this point, does it make?

So maybe there’s some confusion on both sides.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.