COLUMBIA — Snow: With more than enough of the white stuff so far this winter, we’re all screaming “Enough already!”
But wait, there’s more. I’m not talking about real snow. I’m taking about the “Cumulus-Politicianus” clouds enveloping over our great halls of government and places where public debate takes place.
Sen. Claire McCaskill held her town hall meeting here this past week. After listening to her respond to questions from the audience and journalists, I was reminded of a quote from President Woodrow Wilson that essentially went: “Every impromptu speech I have given was carefully prepared.”
Although the questions were randomly chosen by an audience member who, presumably, would never ever vote for McCaskill, they were predictable. So were some of her responses. Some felt like we were being snowed.
This was not a campaign stop, which was made obvious by her direct answers to budget questions, including one from the Missouri Association for Community Action whose members, like our own Central Missouri Community Action, will see major hits to its federal funding. There was no plowing, just words of caution to drive carefully in the slush. The majority seemed to believe that McCaskill was being painfully honest.
Yet her responses concerning energy independence, veteran benefits and medical coverage, financial hits to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Wall Street brigands running free seemed to be carefully prepared. Even her reply to Hamid El-Tayash — organizer of Columbia’s free Libya movement and owner of Campus Eastern Foods — concerning the U.S. response to the Libyan crisis seemed too practiced and elusive.
Most everyone I spoke to seemed satisfied that the senator was being honest and forthright. Yes, there was some snow, but overall it was mostly minor flurries. But even flurries can prove dangerous in the right or, if you will, the wrong conditions.
Friday’s snow came in the form of the Columbia City Council candidate forum hosted by the Muleskinners. Candidates Helen Anthony and Glen Ehrhardt for the Fifth Ward’s open seat and Fred Schmidt, Pam Forbes and Mitch Richards for the First’s participated. Darrell Foster had a conflict; he did not show and did not send a surrogate. (Not a good thing, by the way.) The conversation was enlightening, but there were warnings of an upcoming blizzard. What did one have to look for?
Avoidance: Did the candidate seem to avoid answering questions, even indirectly? I heard that tactic a few times during the one-hour forum. Two candidates attempted to snow the audience with federal issues, without relating them directly back to the city. This may start an avalanche of mistrust in their campaigns.
Deer in headlights: What does the candidate really know? One candidate looked like that poor doomed deer during the Q-and-A session. She really could not answer the questions posed to the candidates, leaving no tracks in the snow back to the field of safety.
Digging out: The infamous “I don’t know the answer but I will give you one anyway” snow storm. I heard three candidates trying to find their way out their personal blizzards of political nonsense.
Fear mongering: Safety issues are always prevalent in a political campaign. However, when a candidate overemphasizes the need for more cops because our city is a dangerous place, or that our civil rights are being destroyed because the citizens voted for more surveillance cameras downtown, ice has formed under the snow. These are slippery-slope arguments.
“You may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” There is a controversy over who said this — P.T. Barnum or Abraham Lincoln — but the idea holds true. Voters know the difference if they are not stuck head-first in the snow drifts.
My suggestion: good sunglasses, warm boots and a bigger shovel.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.