“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”
Politics, or the game of getting re-elected, is one area where the art of dodging pointed questions is considered a required black art, which is either naturally occurring in an individual or acquired via coaching and specialised training. Politicians of the modern day know that everything they say will be held up to scrutiny within seconds of being said, so any version of the truth which they may elicit must either be positioned “beyond the debate”, by the nature of it being an agreed fact or a null-implication platitude, or “kept out of the debate” by not allowing any specific aspect of their political manifesto or opinion be explicitly defined or accounted for.
Informed citizens, journalists and people armed with a cannon full of truth often aim for our politicians in public forums. Confronted with such artillery, it requires maneuvering through the battlefield with the greatest of care to avoid being caught in the fall-out by any loose shrapnel. Quite often it involves politicians ducking for cover, digging in and entrenching their defences with the use of diversionary talking points and misdirection tactics.
When did you last see a leader standup and voluntarily take accountability for what they said and the result of their actions? When did you last hear a politician answer the actual question they were asked, besides when it related to a trivial matter? In which case they will easily explicitly respond with the most favourable response according to their latest polls just in, or they may just let the facade drop for a moment and let unfold a gaucherie which would embarrasses the head monk of an abbey.
Considering the elusiveness of their elected brethren, one would hope that the questions posed by these con-artists of rhetoric to each other must then be the most sharply engineered instruments so as to lock onto a moving target, such as another fellow’s opinion on the subject at hand, by means of verified facts? Alas, rather than using their questions to broaden the public debate on issues and encourage a deeper understanding of the situation, we see the game of re-election descend into a distracting blaze of allegations of a personal nature, the attacking the person instead of the issue tactic, the oul’ “ad hominem” ploy. This keeps the real issues out of the discussion as the valuable time of day is eaten up by sound bites of the caretakers of our public offices, calling each other names across the room.
This is a phenomenon which feeds into the media machine which thrives on such fodder. These schoolyard antics make for scandalous headlines digested by unscrupulous media hacks and spat out out by the omnipresenting news outlets whose original purpose, let us not forget, was to inform the public of the true goings of the day. Two years after writing the United States constitution, the founding fathers, upon reflection, saw it in the best interests of their developing country to add certain additional laws, the amendments to the constitution or also known as the “Bill of Rights”, the first of which relates to the right to free speech and the freedoms of the press. The press, also described as the “Fourth Estate” with the other three estates being the houses of the Government, was regarded with the esteem such that its rights to report the truth, despite the consequences, were enshrined in what was called the First Amendment.
This First Amendment and its applied interpretation, is perhaps the most referenced constitutional argument in non-legal domains outside its home jurisdiction of the 50 states united. The “right to free speech” is a right expected everywhere but actually enshrined without limitations in very few places. I say “without limitations”, as free speech is on the menu in quite a few countries as long as you don’t talk about certain things, the sort of topics which may upset or criticise political or Soverign powers. These limitations, known as sedition laws, are undoubtedly a very useful tool for governments to keep unwanted questions out of the game. By putting the unwanted questioners behind bars, it serves to remind freethinkers the potential cost of turning their thoughts into words or actions.
So it’s ok to say what you want as long as you don’t want to criticise the way things are or potentially change the way things are? Is free speech where you have to reign your words, really free speech or is it an illusion of free speech? Further considering that Governments are actively passing legislation to make it more difficult for controversial questions to be asked (by categorising activists; political, animal or environmental, as terrorists), we find ourselves driving down a highway with fewer and fewer exits showing up ahead on the map ahead in case we need to change direction.
Our media having resigned itself to calling the play-by-play change in opinion polls in the run up to Election Day, essentially commentating on the horse race instead of facilitating and deconstructing the debate, is not portraying itself as a potent poultice with the potential to sooth and heal the painful ailments. Nor will they yield a scalpel, aimed at cutting through the fatty tissues of empty words and posturing to extract the cancers from our political bodies.
In the midst of all this, should we take ourselves aside and ask the questions of ourselves, “where are the questions going to come from and who is going to ask them?”.