Thursday, October 18, 2012

Answer the Question that was asked

On my first day of law school, we had an orientation that involved a mock class in the Moot Court room. Before the professor began calling on folks to discuss the case we were supposed to have read he told us a story about a time he went to hear Justice Antonin Scalia speak. During a question and answer session, one of the professors asked Justice Scalia what his biggest gripe was with lawyers. Justice Scalia apparently responded by saying "They don't answer the question I ask."

So, that was the first thing I learned as a lawyer, to answer the question that the questioner asks. The professor during our mock class happened to be my first year Property professor and I frequently remember him telling students who he called upon "That's a very good and detailed answer, but it wasn't the answer to the question I asked." Oddly enough, both President Obama and Governor Romney are graduates of Harvard Law School and yet they both did a poor job of answering the questions that were asked several times during the second Presidential debate (and the first debate for that matter).

For example;

Katherine Fenton asked this:
In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?  
So what might have some responses that actually answered the question have looked like?
President Obama: Well Katherine the first bill I passed in office was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and we think that bill will do enough to rectify pay discrimination against women so I don't plan to do anything. However, I do think we need to address other inequalities beyond pay discrimination and I hope to do that in a second term by introducing legislation that would give employees a cause of action for other types of inequitable treatment. 
Governor Romney: Katherine thank you for your question but I personally don't see a problem with the fact that women earn 72% of what men earn because that tells me that is what the market demands and it's not the government's job to interfere with the will of the great and wonderful market (peace be to God). If a woman is getting less pay for equal work then she is not acting as a rational market actor would and taking her talents to another firm. 
Now, those are almost assuredly not good answers but they did address the primary subject of the equity for women and inequity in the workplace generally.

Compare that to Romney's actual answer:

Thank you. An important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. 
And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, "How come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men." They said, "Well, these are the people that have the qualifications." And I said, "Well, gosh, can't we -- can't we find some -- some women that are also qualified?"

And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.
I went to a number of women's groups and said, "Can you help us find folks," and they brought us whole binders full of women. 
I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.

There is really nothing in that response that has anything to do with inequality in the work place and pay inequity for women. What that response constitutes is one turd in a pile of crap thrown against the wall to try to appeal to women. This same type of response was repeated all night long. I understand that they have a limited amount of time and that it's necessary to tell a grander story that ties each question into their over-arching meta-vision of the campaign and the proper way forward, etc., but you get to that point building up from answering the question that was asked up to the larger narrative.

For instance, this race is not going to be decided on each candidate's position on an Assault Weapons Ban. So, it is necessary to tie that question into one's larger vision of the country but to nevertheless answer it. I thought President Obama did a decent job with this issue mentioning

1. A general overview of our country's view on guns,

2. His support for some kind of Assault Weapon's ban

and then tying it into a theme of.

3. A strong economy with a growing middle class is less prone to gun violence overall.

However, I do think at the end of that question he trailed off talking about the economy and other ancillary issues a bit too much. I get the sense that ordinary average Joe's who don't follow pundits on Twitter can sense the general jist that the pol is throwing crap against the wall and hoping something sticks. And, that is why a guy like Bill Clinton was so revered in his convention speech...he talked just wonkish enough in a way that wasn't disrespectful but not over people's heads and he didn't spout obvious puffery.

So, if the candidates were to even remotely care about my advice? Just answer the specific question specifically and concisely before moving onto your general view of the world. When people sitting at home see you fail to answer the specific question the first thought that comes to our minds is that you are bullshitting.

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