A Politician Who’s Not Evasive?

Politicians typically are horrible role models for learning how to interact with news media interviewers. They’re notorious for their propensity to ignore questions and spew the rehearsed “company” line. They usually are much better to use as examples of evasion.

Just think back to the recent and very protracted presidential campaign. Candidates and their surrogates ignored most questions and regurgitated their slogans and memorized lines. It was maddening. What they don’t seem to understand is that evasion is a distraction, and the messages they’re trying to force-feed us really aren’t being heard.

And so, it’s almost counter-intuitive to offer a politician as an example of someone who has managed to be fairly responsive to questions while staying on message. This is not about a politician and his position on issues. Instead, it reinforces the notion of your right to be responsive to questions on your terms, from your perspective, and still effectively connect with target audiences.

President-elect Barack Obama submitted to an interview Sunday, January 11, 2009, on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. With just over a week before taking office and the reality of the issues he faces, Obama was quite refreshing with his responses. Here are some examples that have been copied and, in the interest of time, shortened, but no words have been added or meanings changed:

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, we asked our viewers what they wanted to hear from you, and we got hundreds of pages of questions, thousands of questions, almost all about the economy. And it’s clear there’s a lot of pain out there, a lot of fear. And if I could sum up the questions, it would be very simple, can you fix this?
OBAMA: I think we can fix this. But it’s going to take some time. It’s not going to happen overnight…
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you really believe those business tax cuts are going to work to create jobs? Or do you put them in so you could get Republican votes?
OBAMA: Well, let’s look at the package as a whole, the bulk of the package is direct government spending. And here are a few things we’re going to do…
…And so then the question becomes, do tax cuts also provide a stimulus? Do they also help? And they may not help as much as some of the direct spending projects do, but they still provide a stimulus, especially if they are targeted towards people who are really in need.
STEPHANOPOULOS: When you look at the array of things you want to do, as president, something is going to have to give.
OBAMA: Right.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Which of your ambitions, which of your campaign promises will you have to scale back on because of all of this?
OBAMA: Well, we are going to be presenting a budget in February. And as we learned this week, we are inheriting over a trillion dollar deficit. Unheard of in recent history and…So one of the things that I’ve said is — and I’ve said this to my economic team, we are going to have to make some tough choices under my watch to ensure that on the medium term and the long term we’re starting to bend the curve where we are getting the deficit under control.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me press you on this, at the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your presidency some kind of a grand bargain? That you have tax reform, health care reform, entitlement reform, including Social Security and Medicare where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?
STEPHANOPOULOS: And eventually sacrifice from everyone.
Everybody is going to have to give. Everybody is going to have to have some skin in the game.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So based on what you’ve learned during all these intelligence briefings, are we safer or more at risk than you believed during the campaign?
OBAMA: Well George you know I can’t say what the —
STEPHANOPOULOS: Without giving me any confidential information, just generally.
OBAMA: I think that we have made progress in certain areas but those dangers are still there. And those dangers are not going to immediately go away…
STEPHANOPOULOS: You also agreed on Guantanamo when you say you want to shut it down. You say you’re still going to shut it down. Is it turning out to be harder than you expected, will you get that done in the first 100 days?
OBAMA: It is
more difficult than I think a lot of people realize and we are going to get it done but part of the challenge that you have is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom who may be very dangerous who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication.

Obama either gives direct answers, or backs into an answer. But, there’s no evidence in the above selections that he completely ignores or evades questions. And these examples are indicative of the entire interview. When he cannot, or will not, respond directly, he says so and says why.

It will be interesting to see if he continues this practice during his presidency.

Leave a Reply