Does Hillary Clinton really need to plant questions?
Does the Clinton campaign really need to twist a college kid's arm to ask Clinton a question about climate change at a climate change event?
After Clinton toured a biodiesel plant in Newton, Iowa, last week, her aides got a student to ask: "As a young person, I am worried about the long-term effects of global warming. How does your plan combat climate change?"
As long as you are going to plant a question, why not plant a question that is not going to be asked anyway?
If I were a Clinton aide, I would have planted: "As a young person, I think your nuanced answer about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants during the last presidential debate was brilliant. How did you get so smart, and what can we, as college students, do to improve school spirit?"
A few months ago, a Clinton aide unsuccessfully tried to get a voter to ask Clinton about the Iraq war at an event outside Fort Madison, Iowa.
But do you really need to prompt an Iowa Democrat to ask about the Iraq war?
It may be the second-most-discussed topic in Iowa after the weather.
So why would the Clinton campaign do it, especially since getting caught is so embarrassing?
Because the culture of control in presidential campaigning has gotten way out of control.
Staffs now want to control every moment of the campaign: not just what the candidate says and how she says it, but what questions she gets asked about it.
In 1988, Roger Ailes, who was George H.W. Bush's media guru, gave an interview to Advertising Age magazine and was asked if there was a difference between selling a candidate to the American people and selling a box of cookies to the American people.
"There's an enormous difference between cookies and candidates," Ailes said. "Cookies don't get off the shelf and hold news conferences or make gaffes or go on 'Meet the Press.'" So the name of the game for presidential campaigning is to control the candidate so he gets "off the shelf" as rarely as possible.
And for those rare off-the-shelf moments debates, interviews, questions from voters you make sure the candidate is briefed and rehearsed.
So somebody on the Clinton campaign decided that as long as you were going to brief the candidate on how to answer the questions, why not brief the audience on how to ask them?
John Edwards compared what Clinton did to what George Bush does.
"What George Bush does is plant questions and exclude people from events, and I don't think that's what Democrats want to see in Iowa," Edwards said.
That is a bit unfair. Nobody is suggesting that Clinton lets only supporters into her events. And planting a friendly question does not immunize her from getting unfriendly ones.
But Edwards got one thing right: It is not what voters want to see in Iowa or anyplace else.
It reminds people of the ultimate in control: The recent FEMA "press conference" where FEMA staff members pretended to be reporters and asked fake questions.
Clinton said Sunday that she does not approve of the practice of planting questions and "it will certainly not be tolerated."
I talked to a senior Clinton aide Monday who said Clinton was "furious" when she found out about the practice.
Because when staffers plant questions, it means they don't trust the candidate to handle herself in public. They don't think she can answer real questions from real people.
Either Clinton can or she can't. Planting fake questions will not make up for her deficiencies or showcase her talents.
So, memo to Clinton staffers: Trust your candidate or find a new one. Let Hillary be Hillary.