If this holds up Obama will be my hero

Slate has a story by John Dickerson about how Obama has rejected the weasel tactic invented, or at least perfected, by Bush for avoiding questions.

To hide the fact that they’re hiding something, candidates elevate their refusal to a virtue. “One of the jobs of a president is being very reasoned in approaching these issues,” Hillary Clinton said to a hypothetical question about sending ground troops to Darfur. “And I don’t think it’s useful to be talking in these kinds of abstract hypothetical terms.” Two days later, Mitt Romney cried hypothetical when asked in a debate whether, in hindsight, going to war in Iraq was a mistake. To give the dodge extra weight, he criticized the question in Latin (calling it a “non sequitur”), on fairness grounds (saying it was “unreasonable”), and, finally, mathematically (labeling it a “null set”), as if to suggest there was some immutable arithmetic law that made entertaining the whole notion absurd.

The hypotheticals that candidates have been avoiding are the interesting, substantive ones. Anyone running for president should have thought through those questions, and if they haven’t, we should know about it.

Fortunately, one candidate is answering hypotheticals. For the last two weeks, the Democratic political conversation has been consumed with hypothetical questions. Last week, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton engaged in a multiday set-to over whether they would meet with nasty dictators. This week, Barack Obama doubled down on hypotheticals by raising his own hypothetical situation in his sweeping speech on foreign policy. If he found actionable intelligence about al-Qaida leaders hiding out in the mountains of Pakistan, he said he would send in troops whether the Pakistani government liked it or not. When asked the next day about using nuclear weapons in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said he never would use them.

Saying one won’t answer hypotheticals is the most pathetic shortcut I can think of for avoiding hard questions, and the fact that Hillary does it too, well, is there a better example of the problem with her? But Obama at least is setting himself apart as the one who will at least attempt intellectually-honest responses to legitimate questions.

Now, I don’t feel like arguing the relative merits of candidates yet, and I’m trying to avoid getting into this horse race mentality half a year before there are even any primary elections. But can we all agree, the avoidance of hypothetical questions is the most pathetic and arbitrary weasel technique ever? Whatever positions a candidate has, I can think of few things that piss me off more than adopting Bush’s slimy technique for avoiding real discussion. I think Dickerson agrees.

Perhaps the greatest argument for insisting that candidates answer hypothetical questions is that George Bush hates them. He refused to entertain most plausible scenarios as a candidate. As president, the dodge is like his seal of office: He brings it to every press conference. The irony, of course, is that Bush launched an entire war based on the hypothetical scenario that al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein might form a partnership. In the end, the weapons stockpiles turned out to be hypothetical, too. “That’s a hypothetical question,” Bush said, answering a typical question from before the Iraq war about what the American people should expect. “They can expect me not to answer hypothetical questions.” Of the next president, the American people should expect just the opposite.

Amen.

I would also like at the same time to salute Republican Tom Tancredo for also being willing to answer hypotheticals. However, his answer, is well a tad disturbing.

– Followers of radical Islam must be deterred from committing a nuclear attack on U.S. soil, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo said Tuesday morning, saying that as president he would take drastic measures to prevent such attacks.

“If it is up to me, we are going to explain that an attack on this homeland of that nature would be followed by an attack on the holy sites in Mecca and Medina,” the GOP presidential candidate said. “That is the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they would otherwise do. If I am wrong fine, tell me, and I would be happy to do something else. But you had better find a deterrent or you will find an attack. There is no other way around it. There have to be negative consequences for the actions they take. That’s the most negative I can think of.”

However this does demonstrate why having politicians answer hypotheticals is important! We now know a lot more about this man than we did previously, and what kind of foreign policy he would entertain. Namely the batshit-crazy variety.

Now this is why political appointees shouldn’t have a say in science

We already knew from former Surgeon General Carmona’s testimony that this was happening, but now the WaPo brings us
a specific example of science being squelched by a political appointee. It’s not only inappropriate, but just despicable.

A surgeon general’s report in 2006 that called on Americans to help tackle global health problems has been kept from the public by a Bush political appointee without any background or expertise in medicine or public health, chiefly because the report did not promote the administration’s policy accomplishments, according to current and former public health officials.

The report described the link between poverty and poor health, urged the U.S. government to help combat widespread diseases as a key aim of its foreign policy, and called on corporations to help improve health conditions in the countries where they operate.

Three people directly involved in its preparation said its publication was blocked by William R. Steiger, a specialist in education and a scholar of Latin American history whose family has long ties to President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Since 2001, Steiger has run the Office of Global Health Affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Carmona told lawmakers that, as he fought to release the document, he was “called in and again admonished . . . via a senior official who said, ‘You don’t get it.’ ” He said a senior official told him that “this will be a political document, or it will not be released.”

The draft report itself, in language linking public health problems with violence and other social ills, says “we cannot overstate . . . that problems in remote parts of the globe can no longer be ignored. Diseases that Americans once read about as affecting people in regions . . . most of us would never visit are now capable of reaching us directly. The hunger, disease, and death resulting from poor food and nutrition create social and political instability . . . and that instability may spread to other nations as people migrate to survive.”

Heckuva job their Steiger. And is it an isolated incident? Of course not:

Public health advocates have accused Steiger of political meddling before. He briefly attained notoriety in 2004 by demanding changes in the language of an international report on obesity. The report was opposed by some U.S. food manufacturers and the sugar industry.

The global health document was one of several reports initiated by Carmona that top HHS officials suppressed because they disliked the reports’ conclusions, according to a former administration official. Another was a “Call to Action on Corrections and Community Health.” It says — according to draft language obtained by The Post — that the public has a large stake in the health of the 2 million men and women who are behind bars, and in the health care available to them in their communities after their release.

The report recommends enhanced health screenings for those arrested and their victims; better disease surveillance in prisons; and ready access to medical, mental health and substance abuse prevention services for those released.

But the report has been bottled up at HHS, said three public health experts who worked on it. John Miles, a consultant and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official who helped draft it, said he suspects that the proposed health screenings and other recommendations are seen as a potentially burdensome cost. “Maybe they just don’t feel it’s a priority,” Miles said.

What can we do about this? Scientific integrity is at stake here when political appointees with no expertise and no respect for science can suppress information of value to the public. I encourage everyone to sign the Union of Concerned Scientists petition to restore scientific integrity to government agencies.

Shoot first, ask questions later

Is it just me or is Tom Coburn recommending a policy of shoot first ask questions later for our borders?

The patrol’s deadly force rules were questioned at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the conviction of two agents who shot a fleeing, unarmed drug trafficker and covered it up.

“Why is it wrong to shoot the [trafficker] after he’s been told to stop?” asked Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma.

A new low for Coburn.