Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Questions and Answers

Sometimes a question answered speaks volumes beyond the original question.

Any GOOD politician will only ask questions for which the answers are known. To ask something you cannot answer begs an opportunity for the questionee to make a point you didn’t expect and couldn’t control. There’s a lot of risk in that moment in the political sun, especially if your hearings are televised.

To me, the moment that summed up the Louisiana response to Hurricane Katrina in the Select Committee hearings in Washington today was Michael Brown’s answer to a simple question.

He told the committee that Louisiana’s Emergency Manager was gone the Saturday before Katrina hit. For some reason, the politician asking questions decided to find out where that manager was.

Brown’s answer was succinct. That appointed official had been INDICTED, and a replacement had not been appointed.

I actually believe it is a little too soon to be holding these hearings. But, everyone was clamoring for an investigation. And they got it. Democrats want an independent panel, which would take months to organize, staff and initiate, and are refusing to appoint members to participate.

I’m not sure Pelosi’s decision is well advised. Even if the hearing doesn’t get a lot of coverage, it will reduce the “news value” of future investigations – independent or not. Ultimately facts are facts, and even a cooked hearing will bring news worth covering. Which makes hearings held closer to the next election less valuable in the political posturing that will surely come.

Pelosi’s decision reminds me of some Iraqi political factions that decided to boycott the first election, only to wish they had been “in the game” when it came time to write the constitution. Both Pelosi and the Iraqi factions believed their “non-participation” would call into question the credibility of the event. It is a calculated risk. If the information is good, and the facts are clear, it will be Democrats who missed the opportunity to make their point when the issue was fresh. And that would make them irrelevant at a crucial time.

For a politician, taking airtime when the coverage is fresh is more important than any follow up event that might be six months away. Issues are perishable. And the blame game is “blaming out” as we speak.

Update 9/28 1:00pm

The Hill reports that some Democrats (Though not Pelosi) are rethinking their decision to boycott the House Select Committee proceedings. Pelosi has pounded this issue so hard, she can't move, but that doesn't mean Democrat participation won't occur. Sometimes the leader simply has to get out of the way -- if the original plan was a bad idea.