Mark Pack asks whether one should dodge hypothetical questions, over at Lib Dem Voice. He does so at the prompting of this Slate article by former Al Franken Show regular John Dickerson (I’m sure he’s significant in other ways, too, but that’s how I think of him), the thrust of which is probably summed up best by the line:
But what might not be great for Obama politically is great for us, so we should thank him for taking the risk.
Now, I think the interesting question that springs from this is who are the “we” who should thank him? Voters? Or journalists? Personally, I would have thought both, but from the suggestion that these answers may not be great for Obama “politically”, I take it Dickerson doesn’t think it necessarily helps him with voters.
Which is weird. Personally, I have always found refusals to answer hypothetical questions absolutely bizarre. Since elections are essentially one big hypothetical question (“If you had to pick one of these people to represent your view for the next four years, and you didn’t know what might happen in those four years, which one would you pick?”), surely one of the best ways for the electorate to have a firm idea of the people they are choosing between is to ask them how they might react to certain situations. They have every right to ask hypotheticals. Representative Democracy almost depends on their being able to do so.
Of course, politicians know this as well as anyone, and will answer any question they want to answer, whilst batting off ones they don’t with whatever line they can find. But it is a continual source of puzzlement to me why a refusal to answer a hypothetical question on those grounds is regarded as legitimate, and therefore even an option.
Now, at this point, let’s take a step back and ask what the applicability of this to Lib Dems is. Obviously, the most politically dangerous and perennial question we face is the hypothetical coalition forming deal one. To which we have already given an answer, whether it is the one the Church Of The One True Liberalism likes or not.
So I should at this point clarify that answering hypotheticals, rather than simply refusing outright, does not rule out the possibility of simply saying “that would depend on several factors, such as a), b), c) and d), so I cannot give you a definitive answer based on the parameters of your question.”
So on coalition forming, the answer might well be:
“We would talk to all major parties, and try to ascertain which offered the most opportunity to implement liberal policy. PR would be a prerequisite. We would try, all other things being equal, to support the party with the largest popular vote. Our decision would be highly dependent on all of these. But in any situation, getting liberal policy enacted is what drives us, and the best way to achieve that is to elect a Liberal Democrat government.”
Which is a bit clunky, I guess, but then that’s the problem with honesty. It doesn’t tend to be very snappy. But, if nothing else, consideration of this has at least persuaded me that maybe Stephen Tall was right and I was wrong.