Politico reports breathlessly: “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday declined to answer whether he believes in evolution.” Why should this even be a story, and more important why should this even be asked?
For starters, the motive behind the question is clearly to mock and ridicule. Does the media ask liberals if they believe in the Immaculate Conception? The question has no possible relevance to public life for a governor or a president. Even at the school superintendent level, the only question that matters is whether evolution should be taught in the school. Walker’s answer was perfectly fine: “That’s a question a politician shouldn’t be involved in one way or another. So, I’m going to leave that up to you.” Well said. (He might not have prefaced it with “I’m going to punt on that one.”)
Politicians should have the nerve to call out questions or refuse to answer on the grounds the question is stupid or irrelevant or never asked of Democrats. This is not an excuse for ducking the media altogether nor for answering relevant questions. I think Hillary Clinton’s hiding from any and all serious questioning is disgraceful, evidence she lacks confidence in her answers or has no fixed views. But the questions politicians are asked should pertain to something one can imagine coming up in public life.
The Republican National Committee has made an effort to limit debates in the 2016 season, and for good reason. It is not necessary to have 20 of them. But Republican candidates should take a page from Walker’s book when ridiculous questions are posed, as they may be in the authorized debates. Some questions are silly (e.g. Did you do [anything] in high school?) Others are inappropriate (e.g. boxers or briefs?) And some are used not to elicit information for partisan advantage, but instead are used purely against Republicans. I’d like to see a reporter ask Clinton if she believes in heaven and hell or in miracles. Does she think God has intervened in her life?
You hear politicians and pundits saying that it is too late to push back. The genie is out of the bottle. Politicians have to share with us. The answer is: No, they don’t. If we want less political venom in politics, less personality and more substance and more serious news, one step in the right direction would be to rebuff the media when they ask questions that are not appropriate. It is frankly to a politician’s credit if he decides to draw a distinction between public and private realms, and when he asks to be judged on his public character, positions, agenda and experience. And for the media to simultaneously claim politics is unserious or too partisan and to keep asking the gotcha questions of only one party is hypocritical.