Monday, June 04, 2007

Clinton And Hypotheticals

This from

"Part of the vibe about Hillary winning the debate might come from this: She led a revolt against Wolf Blitzer's frequent use of 'raise your hand' questions. "Well we're not goint to engage in these hypotheticals," Hillary said, in response to a question about a missile strike against Osama bin Laden that might kill civilians. "I mean one of the jobs of a president is being very reasoned in approaching these issues. And I don't think it's useful to be talking in these kinds of abstract hypothetical terms."

But it is only showing respect for the voter when a candidate presenting herself for election, who purports (accurately, in this case) to be qualified to be President, is willing to answer hypothetical questions. In fact, any question about what an aspirant would do once elected is a "hypothetical" question. As an example: "Senator, you're being asked to give a conservative Republican President authority to act as he finds necessary in Iraq. If you vote to give him that authority and he does not continue inspections- which you believe he should- and instead launches a military attack. Will that maintain our national security, or perhaps lead to the deaths of thousands of American servicemen, encourage recruitment of terrorists, bog us down in a civil war, and entice an Iraqi government to move closer to a militant Shiite regime in Iran?" Likely response: "I'm sorry, I can't get into hypotheticals."

This was not Mrs. Clinton's only refusal in this manner to answer a question. Asked if as President she would enact a no-fly zone in Darfur, the Senator responded "Well, but we're not going to engage in these hypotheticals."
The failure to consider "hypotheticals" bears an eerie similarity to the Senator's refusal to admit that she erred in supporting the original Iraqi war resolution in 2002. She says (seemingly confirmed by a statement she gave in the Senate at the time) that she wanted the President to try to gain U.N. approval for "unfettered" inspections in Iraq and that his management of the war would not be a colossal failure. But he didn't, and it was. An officeholder must consider hypothetical situations, such as: whether the person in charge will act as I wish (he didn't) and how effective he/she will be in pursuing an alternative policy (not at all). If she did not consider those factors, she was shortsighted; if she did, she didn't take into account that the man in charge was George W. Bush.

Don't want to consider hypothetical situations? Then every policy/law that sounds good, we'll enact it. Implementation? Unimportant. We can always say "with what we knew at the time...."

Similarly, consider Mrs. Clinton's steadfast refusal to admit that President Clinton erred when he proposed and implemented the "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military. (Full disclosure: I was in favor of it.) Rationalizing it as "a transitional policy," Senator Clinton now favors ending it. In addition to citing discharge of Arabic linguists, she asserted "after the first Gulf War there was a big flood of discharges of gays and lesbians because they let them serve and then after they finished the war, then they discharged them." If this did occur (without a flaunting of their sexual status the approach was designed in part to prevent), a violation of the spirit and the letter of the law occurred and the policy clearly failed. Hence, one finds it difficult for those gays (male and female) punished for serving their country and complying with the policy to be comforted by the Senator's assurance that it was merely a "transitional" policy. Thanks, folks, we needed you as guinea pigs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although I'm not a big fan, I definately noticed that Mrs. Clinton certainly did have a commanding presence during the debate. She was given ample opportunity to speak and she was able to quiet the others and assume a very leader-like stance. I believe that she did come out strong, despite Edwards' attempts to weaken her stance.

I understand the need for certain hypothetical questions to judge what kind of policies a candidate is likely to pursue if elected. Still, I believe that Hilary was correct in rebutting the question that she did. Aside from the rapid questions and objections of several candidates, as well as the vagueness of the question, hypothetical questions involving acts of war are generally a dangerous trap for candidates. This is true for several reasons.
1. There is rarely one clear set of guidelines or criteria that can define how a person will decide every war-related decision. Instead, presidents have to factor in everything from current world standing, to domestic support, to the amount of civilian casualties, to the justness of the act, etc. The list goes on and on and the factors are constantly changing, which therefore causes changes in the ultimate decision.
2. Trying to condence a complex situation like a possible strike against terrorists to a simple yes or no question is unrealistic. Each real-life situation is always different.
3. Such questions attempt to clearly define a candidate and can box him or her into a response that people automatically expect.
4. Because it is hypothetical and is simplified, a candidate's answer can be misunderstood or wrongly twisted.

Therefore, unless a candidate is always for or against an act, despite the reasons, evidence, or consequences, we can never know exactly how a candidate will always act. Nevertheless, we can certainly percieve how they may act based on their history, their character, and their statements. We have to continue to prod them in many ways and make our best judgements, but using vague hypotheticals that don't address the numerous factors involved is not an effective way to tell what a candidate will do. In terms using hypotheticals in preparoty terms, such as the hypothetical situation in 2002-3 that an insurgency would form in Iraq, this is different because it is about preparing for consequences or actions, and not for cementing one's policies in stone. I think that Hilary was aware of the futility of the hypothetical and the simplification and differentiation that CNN was attempting to create, and she rightly objected so they could actually discuss ideas and positions.

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