Jon Schwarz is editor of MichaelMoore.com and was research producer for 'Capitalism: A Love Story.' He's also contributed to the New Yorker, New York Times, Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Slate, Saturday Night Live and NPR.
If you hate ever being asked tough questions — i.e., ones where an honest answer would make you look horrible – you should definitely go into American politics. The U.S. media is awesome at putting together video promos with Brian Williams where he furrows his brow and crosses his arms skeptically and says, "We ask the tough questions," but they're incredibly bad at actually asking those questions.
But against all odds, it does sometimes happen. If you're a politician, what do you do then? I mean, obviously you're not going to actually answer the question.
The solution is: look very concerned, and say: I wish we had enough time to delve into this complicated issue.
That's what Paul Ryan recently did when he was asked how the Romney/Ryan tax plan could cut tax rates by 20% across the board yet somehow not reduce government revenue:
CHRIS WALLACE: So how much would it cost?
RYAN: It’s revenue neutral…
WALLACE: But I have to point out, you haven’t given me the math.
RYAN: No, but you…well, I don’t have the time. It would take me too long to go through all of the math.
It's also what John Brennan, Obama's top counterterrorism advisor, did when he was asked why al Qaeda wants to kill us:
HELEN THOMAS: And what is [Al Qaeda's] motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.
BRENNAN: Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. ... it’s because of an al-Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.
BRENNAN: I think this is a – long issue, but al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.
And it's what Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, did at a town hall in Columbus in 1998:
QUESTION: I have a question for Secretary Albright. Why bomb Iraq when other countries have committed similar violations? For example, Turkey has bombed Kurdish citizens. Saudi Arabia has tortured political and religious dissidents. Why does the U.S. apply different standards of justice to these countries? What do you have to say about dictators of countries like Indonesia, who we sell weapons to, yet they are slaughtering people in East Timor?
ALBRIGHT: Let me answer that. I suggest, sir, that you study carefully what American foreign policy is, what we have said exactly about the cases that you have mentioned. Every one of them has been pointed out. Every one of them we have clearly stated our policy on. And if you would like, as a former professor, I would be delighted to spend 50 minutes with you describing exactly what we are doing on those subjects.
In dictatorships it works pretty much the same way, except that instead of politicians being asked tough questions once every ten years, it only happens when they're captured and put on trial for war crimes:
Yesterday in Baghdad Saddam was called to account for the crimes, but he remained defiant...Asked to plead guilty or innocent on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, Saddam offered brazen defiance. "That would require volumes of books," he answered.
So there you have it: Paul, John, Madeleine and Saddam absolutely want to answer your tough question, but they're very very busy people and unfortunately have to leave immediately for their next engagement. Sorry.
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