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May 26th, 2017

Insight

Avoiding the question

Kathleen Parker

By Kathleen Parker

Published Oct. 15, 2014

Kentucky Democratic Senate Candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes

So unpopular is President Obama these days that the (D) following Democratic candidates' names might stand for Denial.

And, so desperate are political pundits for any fresh news crumb that a molehill quickly becomes a mountain. One ill-chosen word — or, worse, a failure to answer a reporter's question — and the candidate is suddenly redrawn into a caricature he doesn't recognize.

Just ask Mitt "47 percent" Romney or former Virginia governor George "macaca" Allen. Now add to the list Kentucky Democrat and Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who, upon dodging a question about whether she voted for Obama, is sitting atop a mountain of media pain.

A bright, attractive candidate any state would be proud to claim, Grimes staked her campaign on how much she isn't like Barack Obama. Her ads have been so starkly separatist — "I'm not Barack Obama" — that she might as well have been wearing a hazmat suit.

Note to politicos: When your ad pitch begins with "I'm not ... ," you're probably already in trouble. And when you choose to distance yourself from your party's leader, people are going to wonder whether you ever supported him or when you stopped.

Thus, when an editorial board asked Grimes whether she had voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 (she was a Hillary Clinton delegate in 2008), Grimes tepidly mentioned "the sanctity of the ballot box" and tried to direct attention elsewhere.

When asked the same question Monday during a debate with incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell (R), she elaborated on her principled position against such questioning, but her reply was too little too late. The unanswered question had seized the buzz and foretold the deluge.

The point she was trying to make is the only one that matters: How people vote is no one else's business. This is foundational in a free, democratic society. Yet voters will hear little else in the remaining weeks before Election Day than that Grimes wouldn't come clean, followed by all the implicit questions and doubts about her honesty, forthrightness and, the only sin Americans won't forgive, hypocrisy.

Oh, what tangled webs ...

But of course Grimes voted for Obama! (Or did she?)


By her refusal to answer, are we to infer that she voted for John McCain or Romney? Perhaps she didn't vote at all. Lie avoidance seems a more plausible explanation than fear of revealing the obvious.

Besides, who agrees with everything a president does along party lines, anyway? A: Only people who have nothing interesting to say.

I admit to some ambivalence on the molehill that didn't have to become a mountain. On the one hand, the question shouldn't be asked. Or rather, it needn't be answered. On the other hand, well, why not just answer the dadgum question?

Media reaction to her dodge at first seemed a function of narcissistic injury than virtuous pursuit of public interest. How dare she flout our right to know? In fairness, reporters (including yours truly) will always ask the (any) question on the well-grounded assumption that the victim . . . I mean, respondent will usually answer.

Even so, criticism of Grimes's petite omission seems unduly harsh. Some analysts have all but called her campaign over.

On a personal note, I don't even know how my husband votes — and he would never ask me for whom I voted. What is marriage without a little mystery?

Right or wrong, the unanswered question will linger if only because we are a little bored. The truth is, Grimes's only substantive error was not being prepared for a question that, given her campaign ads, was all but inevitable.

Her attempt to focus attention on ballot sanctity suffered from a first mention that was weak and a second that seemed too studied for an exam that had already passed.

Too bad Grimes didn't seize the opportunity and make memorable the moment when she chastised the media for forgetting the bloodshed by our forebears and, not long ago, our fellow African American citizens, who suffered and died for the right to cast a ballot without fear of retribution.

Well, you don't get a chance to take a principled stand every day.

This bitter episode — or teachable moment, if you prefer — may yet prove less than fatal, but we are reminded nonetheless that the unanswered question often reveals more than the answered one.

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Kathleen Parker won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Now one of America's most popular opinion columnists, she's appeared in JWR since 1999.

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