Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Would-You-Could-You: Gotchas For Democrats

Much has been made recently of the latest gotcha-question being thrown at Republican nominees by the press: Would You Attend a Gay Wedding? The answers have varied based on both the candidate's own moral compass and their positioning within the GOP horse race. For example:
And so on--now, the fact of the matter here is that this just isn't an especially interesting question. Whether or not the President of the United States would personally attend a wedding is, to put it mildly, not a key concern. You can ask what position they support. You can ask what faith they belong to--but the question is an attempt to identify and expose hypocrisy. If the candidate would support a gay loved one--but not the gander in general, are they a total hypocrite who should be disqualified from running for office?

Has the reporter ever committed hypocrisy? Yes. Should that disqualify them from trying to pin that on others? Maybe. Does it? Clearly not. There's your answer.

But there's a deeper element at work here--and it's this: either (a) the press simply will not ask Democrats these gotcha questions showing proof of their left-wing bias or Democrats just aren't as susceptible to the charge of hypocrisy as Republicans. Is one of these more right than the other? Could it be both? Let's look.

The litmus test here is to look at uncomfortable questions for Democrats--they do exist--and determine if they are not being asked either because the media is leftist or because these questions are not fundamentally interesting. 

How Will We Tell?
It turns out that there is a good measure for determining whether or not a gotcha question is 'worth asking.' It's this: A Gotcha-Question is one whose answer serves to isolate the candidate's base-voters or expose hypocrisy. This is why, for example, Santorum has no problem with the question while Rubio has to choose a "Third Way" answer. This is because anyone voting for Santorum is voting for a culture warrior while Rubio wants everyone to vote for him.

In this case, asking Hillary if she eats meat will separate her from, for example, ultra-left-wing PETA people--but Hillary isn't trying to win them over anyway. It's an easy question for her. Try asking her about her gulf-war vote . . .

So if, for a question, the answer that satisfies the Democratic base will alienate moderates, then it's a good gotcha question and, if there are any substantial number of these, it seems that if the press isn't asking them, that press-bias. On the other hand, if there exists a decent anodyne answer that the candidate can easily give then it's a lousy question and we know why it isn't being asked: it doesn't have divisive power.

The Questions
Let's go get a list of questions! Our hypothetical target is Hillary Clinton. These questions are not about Benghazi or her specific tenures in office--but rather about her feelings on hypotheticals or larger policy issues where she may be exposing hypocrisy or might have to choose a divisive position. Here are some links with "gotcha questions for Democrats"--we'll use some of them.
Question: Should a woman have the right to choose a cosmetic or sex-selection abortion?
This question goes directly after the stance that "An abortion is a choice between a woman and her doctor" that Democrats have promoted. It does so by asking if there is any reason too petty to end a pregnancy. This is an interesting question in that it forces either an unpalatable answer ("Sure! Why not?") or tries to trap the candidate into drawing a line somewhere and then being forced to haggle over it.

Anodyne Answer: Personally, no--of course not. However I think there are many legitimate reasons a woman might make a choice to have an abortion and I want to see that we do not unduly restrict a woman's right to make that choice under legitimate circumstances.

The Problem: While the question hits on a good weak-spot--that abortion isn't popular across a wide spectrum of people--the problem with this is that no Democrat is championing sex-selection abortions while some high-profile Republicans are suggesting there be no exception for rape/incest--or that rape must be "legitimate" (reported, forcible, etc.). In other words, this only looks symmetric. It isn't. Now, there are undoubtedly some Democrats who would happily allow abortions in any/all circumstances--and that could be toxic--but none of them have to say that. There's no sex-selection abortion base.

Grade [ C ]: It's a decent question on a logical basis--but it fails to rile up the Democratic base when presented with a bland answer.

Question: Would you vote in favor of polygamous or incestuous marriage? If not, aren't you discriminating?
The Democratic stance that marriage can be between a man-and-a-man does seem to open the door to: What if they're, uh, brothers? Or, how about, "Seen that show Sister Wives?" The key differentiatior that liberals like when confronted with the pedophilia or bestiality comparison--that of consent, which neither children nor animals can give--doesn't apply to grown-up combinations that still leave people queasy.

Anodyne Answer: No, I don't. I do believe in the right of two people who love each other to get married regardless of their genders.

The Problem: While the key distinction of consent does indicate a possible strain of hypocrisy, the fact is that there's no (or very little) incest/polygamy lobby. Certainly the Democratic base isn't interested in it and the reporter will still be unable to compel an answer. Worse: the question is going to be kind  of offensive to a lot of people--especially young people who support SSM--so it may wind up doing more harm than good.

Grade [ D ]: This gets a bad grade because it fails to recognize that ideological devotion to principal is not what most people care about in terms of social policy. This is why robots and AI's freak out when confronted with a logical paradox and people don't. The truth of the matter is that the Overton Window has accepted same-sex-marriage and trying to rules-lawyer your way around that isn't going to work.

Question: Should a Christian baker be forced to bake a satanist wedding cake? How about a Jewish baker a Nazi cake? Should a Muslim baker be forced to bake a gay wedding cake?  
The three part question is interesting because it divides things up nicely. In the first one, a Christian is forced (?) to bake a cake for someone we all pretty much agree is unsavory. In the second, if you're a consistent liberal you wind up defending Nazis. For the third it's a privilege show-down: Who wins?

Anodyne Answer: I believe that the question here is around whether or not we accept Same-Sex Unions or allow discrimination at the bakery, the altar, or the lunch counter. I support Same-Sex Unions.

The Problem: The problem here is that (a) there is no satanist nor Nazi lobby and (b) the concept of "protected classes of people" exists already and while it doesn't include everyone it may soon include gay people--but not satanists. In that last case, it's an easy "Yes, the Muslim guy? In America? He oughta be forced to." The candidate isn't going to lose votes over that.

The problem here is that the candidate isn't going to lose votes over any of these. You can even say that being a satanist shouldn't be protected (so "Nope--no cake for you") and detractors have to get into the homosexuality-is-a-choice thing . . . which is a trap.

Grade [ C ]: The reason this gets a marginal grade is because people are--or should be--sympathetic to Christian bakers who are sincere about their religious issues with this. Things have changed pretty quickly and there's very little love for someone caught in the cultural rip-tides. Still, as a 'gotcha' this isn't going to "getcha" much.

Question: If Women-Only gyms are okay, how about Men-Only golfing clubs? Is it okay to be 'racist' or 'sexist' in promoting places for women or minorities--but not white males?
Ahh, 'privilege'--a concept that is self-damaging by its very name. Are you, dear reader, privileged? Why yes--you were practically born with a silver spoon in your mouth, sociologically speaking (The Omnivore knows his reader's demographics). What's that? You don't feel like Mitt Romney? Bad ally! Bad! No biscuit!!

Forcing a candidate to split the hairs of privilege is actually pretty good: that's a battle from which no one comes away unscathed.

Anodyne Answer: No good one. You can dissemble but there is no answer to this that will satisfy everyone.

The Problem: The problem here is for the left. The reason it is 'okay' (if it is okay) to have women-only places is because 'everywhere else is a man's place'--and because 'deals are made in the private rooms of men's power' and because 'men rule the world.' However true that is or is not (and check the stats: pretty much true) the articulation of this is not going to be easy, simple, or clean.

Maybe someone can say "Look, what the heck do you care if women have their own gym--do guys really want to go to a pink colored gym?" But the fact of the matter is that (a) the gym won't actually be pink--probably--it'll be a normal gym--and (b) guys might actually want to go to a guy's-only-club. A candidate won't be able to take a good stand on it.

Worse, there's two competing demographics: women--which Democrats do well with and want to keep . . . and blue-collar white men who feel under attack from the forces of political progressiveness. An answer that's firmly on either side of the line will make someone feel slighted.

Grade [ B ]: Unfortunately, while a good question--because it can force an error--it isn't actually much of an issue. There just isn't a lot going on here and if the candidate dodges it they aren't going to get beat up for NOT giving the right answer. Women voters are turning out to protect their 'Curves' gyms in 2016.

Question: Would you outlaw guns if given the option? Do you feel the 2nd Amendment is outdated? How do you feel about an Assault Weapon Ban?
Liberals, generally speaking, favor gun control and, even 'better,' most liberal voters don't own guns so they have no real skin in the game. Legal? Illegal? Doesn't matter to them. It's also a politically losing issue: gun control is a third-rail so if you can get someone to touch it? BZZZZTTT. Like a bug-zapper for Democrats!

Anodyne Answer: I support expanded background checks for gun purchases! Close the gun-show loophole! Crazy people should not be allowed to purchase guns over the Internet! Who wants crazy people--or those with criminal backgrounds to own guns?? Also: you don't need an automatic rifle with a 100-round clip for hunting, do you?

[ The Omnivore can catalog all the problems with that statement--but most people can't ]

The Problem: The problem is that no one has to say the 2nd Amendment is outdated--no matter how the question is posed. They can stick to expanded background checks which remain popular in theory and throw in some misconceptions about gun shows and assault rifles and most people will think the answer makes sense even if it's avoiding the question.

Basically? There's an easy out here and all you have to do is signal to liberals that you think too many people have giant guns while proposing no real policy changes that will really alarm moderate gun owners.

Grade [ C ]: This has potential to do damage if handled well but it's easy for politicians to avoid. It also, again, today, isn't much of an issue.

Question: How many illegal immigrants should we let into our country? If there are already 11 million here, how many more would you let in, considering that you wouldn't build a wall or improve border security to keep them out? An infinite number . . . or just, like, all of Mexico?
Liberals want to talk about 'undocumented immigrants' who are already here--but what if you could force them to talk about the future? If they're not willing to spend a heck of a lot of money securing the border--and they're not--no one is, actually, the cost to build a secure southern border borders on astronomical (see what The Omnivore did there?)--then are they just willing to open the doors?

Anodyne Answer: I support immigration reform and strong borders. We need a plan for the people already here and we need to take steps to reduce illegal immigration. I support the immigration plan the Senate put together.

The Problem: The problem is that there was a bi-lateral plan that was floated--but then fell apart. This gives, as conservatives feared it would, air-cover for amnesty. On the other hand, if you can drive towards making the person admit that nothing short of war-footing at the Rio Grande will staunch the flow of immigrants then you can probably score points with a big portion of the populace.

Grade [ B ]: The answer for illegal immigrants really is to make the job market so hard to get into that they just don't try. E-verification of workers, stiff fines for companies hiring illegals, hotlines to call and turn your illegal-hiring boss in, and so on? Those will work: if you make it too risky to hire illegals you will cut down on immigration without having to station an infantry man every 30 yards.

This, however, is pretty unpalatable to liberals and to Latino voters so if you can steer the conversation in that direction, it's a potential win.

Question: You say you believe in evolution and global warming . . . can you explain [ X ] (where [ X ] is some complicated question that is hard for a lay-person to answer).
Ahh, Science-Denial-ism--the petard of the SoCon. The unsavory truth of the matter is that a lot of people believe in Science without really understanding it. Most of us can't explain why climate change makes winters colder if the atmosphere is heating up--and politicians trying are going to stumble around like Sarah Palin trying to recap Paul Revere's ride.

That'll be awesome TV.

Anodyne Answer: I'm not a scientist--but the VAST majority of the scientists who study this believe in natural forces at work and/or man-caused climate change.

The Problem: The VAST majority of the scientists who study this stuff agree on the scientific explanations.

Grade [ F ]: So long as the politician doesn't try to explain it, siding with a VAST majority of scientists is pretty safe. It's like if you got a diagnosis from a respected and trusted doctor--and then went to fifty other top medical authorities and they all said the same thing ("Yep, it's gout") . . . you'd have to be pretty thick to trust the one dude who swears your 'humors' are out of alignment and wants to 'rotate your chakras' or something.

Question: How much SHOULD CEOs make? The ones who donated to your campaigns? How about movie/sports stars? Same amount? Should, uhm, speaking fees fall into that category? How high should the Federal minimum wage be if it winds up closing stores?
This tries to tie a few things together--firstly there's "name a specific number" question which is always good for a stumble. Secondly, it goes after donors and ties the candidate to fat-cats. A side-swipe at celebrities and sports heroes doesn't hurt. Trying to throw in the minimum-wage-puts-you-out-of-a-job thing . . . not a bad try.

Anodyne Answer: "Income Inequality is a major driver of wage stagnation in this country and we should take responsible action to reduce it. Do you think it's right that a CEO makes 700-times what a factory floor worker makes? I don't--I think a more reasonable division is the right answer. We're already seeing responsible employers like Target and even Wallmart raising their minimum wages . . . My opponent doesn't believe in raising the minimum wage because he wants to keep corporate profits high without benefiting middle class workers."

The Problem: The problem with trying to pin someone to a number is that when they dodge it and talk about the blunt facts of income inequality they're still kinda answering the question. Also: raising the minimum wage a little polls well. Raising it to 15.00 might not--but no one has to sign on to that number.

And here's the real problem: if the other side is against raising the minimum wage that's not going to stack up well.

Grade [ D ]: Income inequality is real enough--and hot enough--that even guys like Mitt Romney have had to adopt some of the rhetoric. The minimum wage may not be the best--or even the right--battlefield to fight it on but it is the most visible and easily understood. It also sits in people's minds as "trickle up" economics: if you raise the minimum wage by two bucks, won't everyone get a $2.00 raise?

Probably not--but if that's what it sounds like that's a winner: who doesn't want a a two-dollar raise?

The frustrating thing for the gotcha-haters is that for the most part the liberal constituencies are not looking for a cultural battle fought in the political arena. They're fine with teaching about the extinction of the dinosaurs millions of years before man showed up, with blindly parroting the scientific consensus on global warming, with protecting gay people as a class--but not Nazis or polygamists--and with expanding handgun checks without needing a constitutional convention to get rid of the 2nd.

In other words, they're comparatively moderate. Part of that is because in a lot of these realms they're winning right now (the turn of the tide on SSM is pretty shocking). Part of it is because their need-to-fight happened a while back with Roe-vs-Wade and Women-Getting-The-Vote and so on. The angry radicalism of the 60's has undergone nuclear decay to a kind of background radiation of social messaging in Hollywood and society that makes it okay to be gay, alright to be pro-soldier-but-anti-war, and fine to be upset about the rich while not actually wanting to "eat them."

This is one reason that "Judicial Activism" has switched from a left-wing thing to a right-wing thing: right now the right is looking for judicial solutions to stand against public opinion the way the left did decades ago. The net result of this is that the left will have an easier time with gotchas than the right--and so they're not as interesting.

That's why we aren't seeing more of them.


  1. Replies
    1. Preach it, brother--and by 'preach' I mean share on social media ;)

      -The Omnivore