Monday, March 10, 2008

Evasion: "Not My Decision"

Politicians often point out that a matter is someone else's responsibility as a way of avoiding giving their opinion on that matter. For instance, a politician is asked for their opinion about a candidate for political office or about a policy issue, and -- instead of giving their opinion -- they say that they don't have the authority to make those decisions.

For instance:
Question: "What should the president's policy be on such-and-such?"
Answer: "That's the president's decision, not mine. The president will have to make that call."
Question: "Do you think so-and-so would make a good senator?"
Answer: "That's for the voters to decide."
But this kind of response is an evasion, a way of not answering the question.

Just because I'm not the president doesn't mean I am prevented from sharing my opinion about what policies the president should adopt. Likewise, just because I don't have the power to appoint senators doesn't mean I can't express an opinion about whether this or that person would make a good one, or who I would prefer to see be a senator.

After all, is the president the only person who's fit to express an opinion about what the president should do? No. Is it inappropriate for sports fans to express an opinion about what their favorite team should do, since only head coaches are empowered to make those decisions? Of course not. The matter of who has the authority or the power to make a certain decision has no bearing on who is allowed to express their thought about what that decision should be.

And, naturally, one of the ways voters make decisions is by listening to candidates express and defend their positions.

Moreover, if having the authority to make a decision were required in order to express an opinion about it, politicians would have to turn down all sorts of praise and political endorsements. But, of course, you never hear politicians say anything like this:
"So-and-so shouldn't praise my policy choices, because those policy decisions are mine to make, not theirs."
Or this:
"So-and-so shouldn't endorse me for the Senate. It's the voters who decide who gets to be senator, not them."
And that's because they know that being authorized to make a decision is unrelated to being allowed to voice an opinion on it.

Usually politicians employ this evasion because answering the question would be problematic (for instance, it might put them at odds with a fellow party member). But, if they don't want to answer it, they should just say so, rather than resorting to the "it's somebody else's decision" ploy.

And if a politician does try to employ this evasion, we should reply by calling them on it:
"I realize that you don't have the authority to decide the matter, that wasn't the question. I'm asking you how you think those who do have the authority should use it?"
Or by saying:
"So, if someone praises or endorses you, you'll reject their support, because it's the voters -- and not endorsements -- that will decide whether you should be elected?"

STEPHANOPOULOS: You just heard those new poll numbers, 64 percent of Americans don’t think that Donald Trump is qualified to be president. Do you believe he’s qualified? And how do you convince all those voters who think he isn’t?

MCCONNELL: Well, look, I think there’s no question that he’s made a number of mistakes over the last few weeks. I think they’re beginning to right the ship, it’s a long time until November. And the burden, obviously, will be on him, to convince people that he can handle this job. And I think – a good step in the right direction with the changes he’s made in the campaign. He’s beginning to use a prepared script more often, which I think is absolutely appropriate for any candidate, whether you’re a long-time politician like Hillary Clinton or whether you’re new to the game like Donald Trump.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn’t hear you say whether you thought he was qualified.

MCCONNELL: Look, I leave that to the American people to decide. You know, he won the Republican nomination fair and square, he got more votes than anybody else against a lot of well-qualified candidates. And so our primary voters have made their decision as to who they want to be the nominee. The American people will be able to make that decision in the Fall.
-- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), June 26, 2016, being interviewed by George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.

Comment: This is an evasion, as McConnell never answers the question. In particular, he uses the "it's for the voters to decide" evasion. Of course it's true that voters will have to assess whether they believe Trump is qualified to be president, but that doesn't mean McConnell can't give his opinion on the matter. After all, McConnell already said many of Trump's GOP rivals were "well-qualified"; what's stopping him from expressing his view on whether Trump himself is? Plus, McConnell has endorsed Trump; would he endorse someone who wasn't qualified?

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: And on the topic of tweets today, there was a tweet last night from Senator Warren saying that she agreed with Chris Murphy that Republicans have decided to sell weapons to ISIS. Do you think that goes too far?

EARNEST: Well, I didn’t see the tweet, but what I could say about this is simply the situation that is created by Republicans blocking the Feinstein amendment is simply that individuals who are suspected of having ties to terrorism are able to buy a gun with impunity, because Republicans are protecting that loophole at the simple request of the NRA. Those are the facts of the situation. And again, I’ll leave it to Republicans to try to defend that position. I don’t think it's a position that many Americans are going to have sympathy for.

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: Are you saying that you agree with that sentiment that it's essentially deciding to sell weapons to ISIS?

EARNEST: I think what is -- again, I'll let Senator Murphy and Senator Warren describe the situation as they see it. As we see it, it is without question possible for suspected terrorists to buy guns because Republicans are protecting their ability to do so.
-- White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, June 21, 2016, remarking on comments made by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Murphy and Warren had said that the GOP, by blocking certain Senate legislation on gun control, had "decided to sell weapons to ISIS".

Comment: First, Murphy and Warren's remark amounts to demonizing. There are concerns about whether people should lose their right to travel by plane or own a gun merely because they have been placed on a terror watch list without having been convicted of any actual acts of terrorism. They didn't simply decide to sell guns to The Islamic State. Second, Earnest is evading the question about whether the White House approves of Murphy and Warren's remark is acceptable. He says that it's their job to defend their remarks, which is true, but it often falls on us to evaluate the remarks of others. The White House has routinely criticized remarks made by Donald Trump; they seldom say, "No comment, we'll leave it to Mr. Trump to defend his own remarks."

CARR: I heard you this morning on "Fox and Friends" and I think I sort of have an idea what you were getting at, but you're getting ripped by the usual suspects in the mainstream media, your great friends at the Washington Post and elsewhere, they're pulling this quote out – and then you were asked about it on the "Today Show" again. You said this of Obama, quote: "He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anyone understands. It's one or the other and either one is unacceptable." Dot, dot, dot, "There's something going on." What did you mean by that?

TRUMP: Well, you know, I'm going to let people figure that out for themselves now, because, to be honest with you, there certainly doesn't seem to be a lot of anger or passion you know when we want to demand retribution for what happened over the weekend. There is certainly not a lot of passion, there is certainly not a lot of anger. So, we'll let people figure it out. But, it's a very sad situation when we had the kind of tragedy that we had, and we have a President who gave a press conference and he talked about gun control when this was a licensed person who could've had a gun anyway. And basically, he wants to take the guns away from people so that only the bad guys – I mean, one of the many problems with the gun control is that the bad guys will have the guns, the good guys won't. They'll turn [them] in because they're law-abiding, right? So they turn in their guns if you had gun control, but the bad guys aren't turning in any of the guns, that I can tell you.
-- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, June 13, 2016, being interviewed by Howie Carr of The Howie Carr Show. Trump was referring to President Barack Obama's remarks regarding the Orlando nightclub shooting by Omar Mir Seddique Mateen.

Comment: This is an evasion, along the lines of the "voters get to decide" variety. Trump is clearly saying that Obama is doing something wrong, either as a matter of unacceptable ignorance or sinister intent. For him to refuse to clarify his allegation is amounts to there being no credible allegation. The fact that there may be problems with Obama's position on gun control in no way proves that Obama is "up to something". Consider: by not clarifying his allegation, would it be fair for us to non-specifically suggest that Trump is u"p to something", and that people should "figure out for themselves" what that means?

OBAMA: I'm going to take one more question. Go ahead.

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned some tactical differences between the two Democratic candidates. But when you hear Bernie Sanders speak, it seems like he's talking more about the issue of trustability and the need for a political revolution. And just yesterday we saw that the State Department's inspector general put out a report about Secretary Clinton's emails, and it basically undermined some of what she said about her email practices. I'm wondering if you think that undermines her trustworthiness with the American people, and if you agree with Bernie Sanders that she should release the transcripts of her highly paid speeches to Wall Street.

OBAMA: Okay. You know what, I take it back. I'm not taking another question. We're in Japan. Don't we have something on Asia that we want to talk about? I'll be talking about this in Washington the whole time. Look, I've already said a lot about those issues. I think those are better directed to the campaign. As I said before, during the course of a primary people say what they think might help them get some votes. And once the campaign is over, then they move on, and they make an assessment in terms of how they can make sure that the vision they care most deeply about has the best chance of passing a Congress and getting signed by a President, and that Supreme Court nominees are confirmed, and all the things that make for a functioning, effective government. So I think that the noise that is going on back and forth between the candidates at this point, if you want insights into how they’re thinking about it, those should be directed to them.
-- President Barack Obama, May 26, 2016, while in Japan. The question referred to Democratic presidential contenders former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Comment: This is an evasion. There's no good reason Obama can't discuss issues related to the U.S.A. while he's in Japan, just like he often discusses relating to Japan (and other countries) while he's in the U.S.A. More, Obama is using the "not my decision" evasion: it's true that people in the Clinton and Sanders campaigns are going to have to decide what strategy they're going to use to win the primary; just because Obama isn't part of either of those campaigns doesn't mean he can't express his opinion on which strategy is more effective.

CAMPBELL: If Donald Trump is the nominee, do you – Sen. Ted Cruz – think that he can win?

CRUZ: Well, that’s gonna be up to the voters. And that’s gonna be a decision for the voters.

CAMPBELL: Should a true conservative support Donald Trump if, in fact, he is the Republican nominee?

CRUZ: Well, you know, that’s a decision every voter's gonna have to make. And it's gonna be a decision that I think is gonna have to come from prayer and from careful examination as to whether he has demonstrated that he's earned your vote, whether he has demonstrated that he is standing for the principles that built this country.
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), May 24, 2016, during an interview with pundit Pat Campbell. The discussion concerned Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: On the first question, Cruz employs the "not my decision" evasion. Of course it's true that voters are going to determine who wins the election, but that doesn't answer the question of who Cruz predicts voters will choose. Cruz uses it again on the second question: of course conservatives are going to have to decide whether they think Trump is close enough to their own political views to be worth voting for, but why can't Cruz express his own opinion on the matter? For instance, if the question was, "Should conservatives support Bernie Sanders?", would Cruz reply, "Well, voters are going to have decide that for themselves.", or would he say, "No, Sanders isn't very conservative."?

When asked point-blank by "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough whether Sanders was ready for the Oval Office, Clinton raised the senator's recent interview with the New York Daily News.

"Well, I think the interview raised a lot of serious questions," Clinton said. "I think of it this way: The core of his campaign has been 'break up the banks,' and it it didn't seem in reading his answers that he understood exactly how that would work under Dodd-Frank."

Asked again whether Sanders is qualified, Clinton dodged. "Well, I think he hadn't done his homework, and he'd been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn't really studied or understood, and that raises a lot of questions," she said.

Asked a third time, Clinton said she would "leave it to voters to decide who of us can do the job the country needs."
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, April 6, 2016, as related in a story that day by Hanna Trudo and Nick Gass of Politico. The discussion concerned Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Comment: Clinton is evading the question about whether Sanders is qualified to be president. One of the evasions she is using is the "not my decision, it's up to the voters" evasion. Should no one ever take a position on whether someone is qualified to be president? Should they just say, well, that's up to the voters? That's not the position President Barack Obama has taken on Clinton.

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: And an endorsement, sir?

OBAMA: I think that the Democratic voters are doing just fine working this out. I think it’s useful that we’ve had a vigorous debate among two good people who care deeply about our country and who have fought hard on behalf of working people in this country for a long time. I think it’s been a good conversation. And my most important role will be to make sure that after primaries is done I’m bringing everybody together so that we focus on winning the general election.
-- President Barack Obama, March 10, 2016, during a press conference, referring to the Democratic Party presidential contest.

Comment: Obama avoids answering the question about who he would endorse, which is fine in principle, but he doesn't provide a good reason for why he won't endorse a candidate. He seems to evade the issue by saying that it's "up to the voters".

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” lasted all of two questions — neither of which were answered during a less-than-four-minute segment before he was booted off the show.

Co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski spent nearly as much time talking about the governor — with Brzezinski blasting him over his refusal to answer questions during the interview and questioning whether he should be leading a state — after his segment than they spent talking to him during it.

At the outset of the interview, Scott declined to endorse a Republican presidential candidate.

“Why wouldn’t you endorse the sitting senator from the state of Florida? That seems like a pretty easy endorsement, to me,” Scarborough asked. “I’m confused.”

“Marco’s done a very good job,” Scott said. “We got elected together back in 2010. He’s done a very good job as our senator. Donald Trump is a friend. I’ve met Ted Cruz. I know John Kasich.”

Scott insisted he will stay out and trust the voters, so Scarborough pivoted to Trump’s recent statement that Islam hates America. “Do you think Muslims in the state of Florida hate America?” he asked.

“Well, as you know, in Florida we’re the best melting pot in the world. We love everybody coming to our state,” Scott said, before turning to his opposition to accepting Syrian refugees who aren’t fully vetted.

“That could be a reasonable policy position if you want to debate that, and we can debate that issue. I’m just asking, generally, do you think that Muslims hate Americans, that Islam hates America as Donald Trump said last night,” Scarborough pressed.

“I can tell you what’s going on in Florida,” Scott began, before Scarborough interrupted and asked again for him to answer the question.

“Do you personally think that Islam is a religion that hates America?” Scarborough asked.

Scott’s response was that Florida has a lot of Muslims and Latin Americans who all get along. “We’re a great melting point. That’s what I can tell you about our state,” Scott said. “Donald Trump, he can talk about the things he wants to talk about. Marco Rubio can, Ted Cruz, John Kasich...”

Co-host Mika Brzezinski wasn’t satisfied. “That’s not answering any questions. Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick, I know you and Joe are friends and this is kind of awkward, but can you answer the question or should we scoot?” she asked.
-- Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), as related in a March 10, 2016, story by Nolan D. McCaskill of Politico.

Comment: Scott refuses to endorse a candidate, but without giving much of a reason apart from "trusting the voters", which is the "not my decision" evasion. He also avoids answering the question regarding Islam.

MUIR: Mr. Trump, thank you. I want to bring this to Senator Cruz, then. Because Senator, you did said of Trump's behavior this week, that's not the temperament of a leader to keep this country safe. Why not?

CRUZ: Well, you know, David, the assessment the voters are making here in New Hampshire and across the country is they are evaluating each and every one of us. They are looking to our experience. They are looking to our knowledge. They are looking to our temperament and judgment. They are looking to our clarity of vision and our strength of resolve. The world is getting much more dangerous. We've had seven years with Barack Obama in the oval office, a commander-in-chief that is unwilling even to acknowledge the enemy we're facing. This is a president who, in the wake of Paris, in the wake of San Bernardino, will not even use the words radical Islamic terrorism, much less focus on defeating the enemy. I am convinced every individual standing on this stage, would make a much better commander-in-chief than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. And the primary voters are making the assessment for each of us, who is best prepared to keep this country safe, to rebuild the military, to rebuild our Navy, our Air Force, our Army, our Marines, and to ensure that we keep America safe.

MUIR: Senator Cruz, I did ask about Mr. Trump. You said he doesn't have the temperament to be commander-in-chief. Do you stand by those words?

CRUZ: I think that is an assessment the voters are going to make. And they are going to make it of each and everyone of us. They are going to assess who is level-headed, who has clear vision, who has judgment, who can confront our enemies, who can confront the threats we face in this country, and who can have the judgment when to engage and when not to engage -- both are incredibly important for a commander-in-chief, knowing how to go after our enemies. In the case of Iran, for example, who has the clarity of vision to understand that the Ayatollah Khamenei, when he chants, "Death to America," he means it. We need a president with the judgment and resolve to keep this country safe from radical Islamic terrorists.

MUIR: Senator Cruz, thank you. We're going to continue on this notion of readiness and experience. I'm going to come back.

TRUMP: Am I allowed to respond? I have to respond.

MUIR: If you would like to respond, Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: First of all, I respect what Ted just said, but if you noticed, he didn't answer your question.
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz, February 6, 2016, during the GOP presidential debate hosted by ABC News. David Muir was among the hosts, and Republican presidential contender Donald Trump one of the participants.

Comment: Trump is correct that Cruz evaded the question. In particular, he used the "voters must decide" evasion. As Muir noted, Cruz has previously expressed his opinion on whether Trump is suited to be president; why can't he repeat it, rather than saying it's "for the voters to decide"?

GUTHRIE: Some of your Democratic allies, Democratic leaders have said point blank that Bernie Sanders – a democratic socialist, as he describes himself – cannot win a general election, that Republicans cannot wait to have an ad that has the hammer and the sickle. You have kind of tiptoed around it. But this is crunch time. If you believe it, why not come right out and say it: "Bernie Sanders, you may love him, Iowa voters, but he cannot win a general election"?

CLINTON: Well I know, Savannah, that is exactly what a lot of Democrats are saying, a lot of elected Democrats, people who want to take back the Senate in the 2016 election, want to add to the numbers of Democrats in the House, and maybe make some progress –

GUTHRIE: Are you saying it?

CLINTON: – in governors and state legislatures. But I think it's fair to say that he has to run his campaign, and present his views. We have differences, and I've been pointing out those differences. I think that it's important for me to tell voters what I want to achieve, and how I will go about doing that. Because I want them to hold me accountable. Then it's going to be up to caucus goers tonight, primary voters next in New Hampshire, to decide who they think offers the best path forward to keep the progress that we've made going.
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, February 1, 2016, during an interview with Savannah Guthrie of NBC News. The question concerned Democratic presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Comment: This is an evasion. Clinton never answers the question of whether Sanders is electable in the general election, instead claiming that other Democrats believe Sanders is un-electable, and apparently saying the "voters must decide" whether they think Sanders can win. Of course, one of the ways for voters to decide whether they think voters can win is to consider the opinion of other Democrats, such as Clinton. Ironically, Clinton declares she wants to be "held accountable" even as she isn't answering the question that's been put to her.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton declined on Monday to say if she has been in communication with any of the women involved in the sex scandals during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Asked if she has had any interactions with them, or feels empathy for any of them, Clinton told The Des Moines Register: “No, I have nothing to say and I will leave it to voters to determine whether any of that is at all relevant to their decision.”
-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, January 11, 2016, during interview with the editorial board of The Des Moines Register.

Comment: This is an evasion, of the "not my decision" kind. Why can't Clinton state whether she's had any contact with the women involved in her husband's sex scandal, and whether she has any empathy for them? And, of course voters will have to decide whether Bill Clinton's behavior is relevant to her candidacy, but that doesn't mean she can't express an opinion on the matter, does it?

BASH: Senator Cruz, you have not been willing to attack Mr. Trump in public. … But you did question his judgment in having control of American's nuclear arsenal during a private meeting with supporters. Why are you willing to say things about him in private and not in public?

CRUZ: Dana, what I said in private is exactly what I'll say here, which is that the judgment that every voter is making of every one of us up here is who has the experience, who has the vision, who has the judgment to be commander in chief. That is the most important decision for the voters to make. … One of the things we've seen here is how easy it is for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to get distracted from dealing with radical Islamic terrorism. They won't even call it by its name. We need a president who stands up, number one, and says, we will defeat ISIS. And number two, says the greatest national security threat facing America is a nuclear Iran.

BASH: Senator, senator, I just –

CRUZ: And we need to be focused on defeating –

BASH: Senator, a lot of people have seen –

CRUZ: – defeating radical Islamic terrorists.

BASH: – a lot of people have seen these comments you made in private. I just want to clarify what you're saying right now is you do believe Mr. Trump has the judgment to be commander in chief?

CRUZ: What I'm saying, Dana, is that is a judgment for every voter to make. What I can tell you is all nine of the people here would make an infinitely better commander in chief than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
-- Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), December 15, 2015, being questioned by Dana Bash of CNN during a GOP presidential debate. The question concerned statements by Cruz regarding whether voters would be comfortable with Republican presidential contender Donald Trump having his "finger on the button".

Comment: Cruz is dodging the question using the "not my decision" evasion. Yes, voters are going to have to decide for themselves who they're comfortable with when it comes to commanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and on every other matter of military, economic, and social policy as well. How does that permit Cruz to be silent on whether other candidates would perform well on any of those matters? Certainly, Cruz has voiced his opinion on the merits or weaknesses of other GOP candidates on policies and issues that, ultimately, voters must choose a candidate to suit them. So why can't Cruz do the same on this particular issue? The statements Cruz made about Trump (that Bash alludes to) clearly were critical of Trump: Cruz said it would be a "challenging question" for Trump to face when voters ask themselves "Who am I comfortable having their finger on the button?" In other words, Cruz has determined that Trump is not the best choice to have control of the nuclear arsenal, he clearly expressed that opinion to voters, but now he's saying it's somehow not his job to evaluate Trump on the matter, it's "for the voters to decide".

LAUER: Does a candidate for president, in this case the Republican front-runner, have a responsibility to shut down a supporter when the supporter erroneously says that the President's not an American, that he's Muslim, and then goes on to say, “We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims.” Does Mr. Trump need to apologize to the President and to Muslims?

CHRISTIE: He's got to decide what he wants to do for himself but I would just tell you that if somebody at one of my town hall meetings said something like that I would correct them and say, “No, the President’s a Christian and he was born in this country.” I mean, I think those two things are self-evident.

LAUER: Do you think it would be right for Mr. Trump to apologize to Muslims this morning?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I think it's – Donald Trump's got to decide, as we've seen – and I’ve said this all along – he's got to decide how serious a candidate he wants to be and how he handles different problems like this are going to determine that in the eyes of the American people. I'm not going to lecture him about what to do, I'll just tell you what I would do. And I wouldn’t have permitted that. If someone brought that up at a town hall meeting of mine, I would said, “No, listen, before we answer, let's clear some things up for the rest of the audience.” And I think you have an obligation as a leader to do that.
-- Republican presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), September 18, 2015, during an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer. Christie was referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who the day before had not corrected a town hall questioner who claimed that President Barack Obama was not American and was Muslim rather than Christian.

Comment: Christie is evading the question, perhaps with “not my decision” or “not my job to police civility” rhetoric. On the one hand, he’s saying that a leader has an obligation to correct false assertions, but he’s also saying he’s not going to lecture Trump about it. But, if Trump has an obligation that he’s failing to fulfill, then why not say so, and detail how he should live up to the obligation? If there’s a good reason for Christie to correct the record, why isn’t there a good reason for Trump to do the same?

QUESTIONER [unidentified]: Has the email issue damaged your campaign? For example, in terms of morale among staff or in fundraising or getting your message to voters.

CLINTON: No. Not at all. It's a distraction, certainly. But it hasn't in any way affected the plan for our campaign, the efforts we're making to organize here in Iowa and elsewhere in the country. And I still feel very confident about the organization and the message that my campaign is putting out.

QUESTIONER: What has this distraction meant for you this summer?

CLINTON: As the person who has been at the center of it, not very much. I have worked really hard this summer, sticking to my game plan about how I wanted to sort of reintroduce myself to the American people. How I wanted to listen and learn what was on the minds of Iowans. And I feel very good.

QUESTIONER: You have been critical in the past of politically motivated investigations. Has the Select Committee on Benghazi devolved in such a way?

CLINTON: Well, the American public will have to determine that. There have been seven previous investigations that were conducted by congressional committees. Of course, there was the independent accountability review board that was conducted by leading Americans with expertise in intelligence, diplomacy (and) the military. They all said that there were changes that needed to be made, which I fully embraced as the outgoing secretary of state. And I testified before both the Senate and the House. This committee has now gone longer and spent, I'm told, more money than the Warren Commission on President Kennedy's assassination and many other investigations. I'll let the American people draw their own conclusion.
-- Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D-NY), September 7, 2015, during an interview with the Associated Press.

Comment: First, this is "distractions" rhetoric. Second, Clinton avoids the question about whether the Benghazi investigation is “politicized” by using the “not my decision” evasion.

"No other presidential candidate was secretary of state when this process started, and I put together a very thorough, deliberative, evidence-based process to evaluate the environmental impact and other considerations of Keystone. As such, I know that there is a very careful evaluation continuing and that the final decision is pending to be made by Secretary [John] Kerry and President Obama. Very simply, the evaluation is determined whether this pipeline is in our nation’s interest, and I’m confident that the pipeline’s impact on global greenhouse gas emissions will be a major factor in that decision, as the President has said. So I will refrain from commenting, because I had a leading role in getting that process started, and I think that we have to let it run its course."
-- Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, July 27, 2015. She was responding to a question about the proposed Keystone oil pipeline, which is being considered for construction.

Comment: This is an instance of the "not my decision" evasion (or perhaps the "under investigation" evasion). Yes, the federal government is in the midst of evaluating the costs and benefits of the Keystone pipeline, and Clinton played a role in inaugurating that evaluation. But she's not involved with it anymore, so she wouldn't be interfering with or undermining the evaluation to take a position on it now.  (As Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post points out, Clinton has taken a stance on the nuclear deal with Iran, despite the fact that the Senate has yet to vote on it.) Is she saying that she will simply endorse whatever decision is reached by the federal government investigation? If so, that, too, is a position she has decided to take, and she can be asked to defend.

MR. EARNEST: This is an agreement not just between the United States and Iran; this is an agreement between the United States, Russia, China, Germany, the U.K., and France, and Iran. And this is an agreement that is enthusiastically supported by, as the President said, 99 percent of the international community.

KARL: Help me with the math. You said a number of times, 99 percent of the world community. The President said 99 percent of the world. Where is that number coming from?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess if you look at the population of the countries that are represented in this particular agreement, the vast majority -- 99 percent of the world -- is on the side of the United States and our international partners in implementing this agreement.

KARL: Have you done the math on our allies in the region, the ones that would be most directly affected by this agreement? What percentage of our allies in the Middle East support this deal?

MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’ll let them all speak for themselves. But at least when it comes to Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir, who is at the Oval Office today, he indicated that -- when he was at Camp David he indicated that “we” -- meaning, Saudi Arabia -- “welcome the discussions on the nuclear program between the P5+1 and Iran.” And Saudi Arabia has been assured that the objective is to deny Iran the ability to have a nuclear weapon, and that all pathways to a nuclear weapon will be closed.

KARL: So you’re telling me the Saudis support this deal?

MR. EARNEST: I'm telling you that the Saudis will speak for themselves. But they -- it’s clear that the --

KARL: But you -- I just asked you about our allies in the region. So I know he supported diplomacy.

MR. EARNEST: But again, you can ask them what their view is of the agreement.

KARL: But the President just met with him; I assume the topic came up.

MR. EARNEST: I assure you that it did.

KARL: Do the Saudis support this deal?

MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I will let them speak for themselves.

KARL: Do the Emiratis support this deal?

MR. EARNEST: will let them speak for themselves.

KARL: Do the Israelis support this deal?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think they made pretty clear that they don’t. But I think what’s clear, Jon, is you know who does support the deal? The Germans, the British, the French. Certainly, the President. The Chinese, the Russians, the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Indians. All of the countries that were involved in pressuring Iran to come to the negotiating table in the first place.
-- White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, July 17, 2015, being questioned by ABC news reporter Jonathan Karl regarding international support for the Iranian nuclear deal.

Comment: This is an evasion. If Earnest and the administration of President Barack Obama (and Obama himself) are going to say that 99% of the world community supports the deal, then they have to support that claim by saying which countries it is that add up to 99%. To say "I will let other countries speak for themselves" on whether they support the deal – particularly after he's made it clear the overwhelming majority of countries do support it – is to also resort to a version of the "not my decision" evasion. Earnest just spoke for 99% of the world on the Iranian deal, but now won't answer on their behalf?

KARL: And the memorandum of understanding that governed Hillary Clinton’s financial dealings, the financial dealings of the foundation and her husband’s speaking fees -- first of all, can you make that memorandum public? Because I don't think we’ve ever seen it.

EARNEST: This is a memorandum of understanding that resides at the State Department, so you can ask them about their policy for disclosing it or not.

KARL: Okay, we’ve asked for that. I’m wondering if you can -- I mean, this is -- I mean, in the interest of transparency this was supposed to be all about transparency. Can we see that memorandum?

EARNEST: I think the goal of the memorandum was to ensure that even the appearance of a conflict of interest was avoided by ensuring that there was greater transparency and greater knowledge about the contributions that were being accepted by the Clinton Foundation for the charitable work that they do. That was the goal of the memorandum.

KARL: I mean, essentially, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised that she would make public the donations to the Clinton Foundation and also speaking fees for President Clinton. Isn’t it clear now that Secretary Clinton did not abide by her own memorandum of understanding with the President?

EARNEST: I’m not sure that that's clear, but you should go ask Secretary Clinton’s team about that.

KARL: Well, I’m asking you, because we now read that Uranium One, a foreign company, donated over $2 million to the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State. That would seem to be a pretty clear violation of a memorandum of understanding as it’s been explained to us by you.

EARNEST: Well, again, for the details of this transaction I’d refer to either the State Department or Secretary Clinton’s team. Obviously, that's not something that was reviewed at this level.

KARL: And we also know that, previously, that a $500,000 donation from the Algerian government went to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Again, isn’t this a clear violation of a memorandum of understanding that said that, first of all, there was going to be an end to foreign donations, and these donations would -- and donations to the foundation would be made public?

EARNEST: Again, I’d refer to you Secretary Clinton’s team about that.

KARL: Well, can you check in on this, as well? This is an understanding with the President, right? This was --

EARNEST: Yes, but you're asking about their compliance with this particular matter and whether it lived up to the standards that Secretary Clinton had set for herself. And so I’d refer you to Secretary Clinton’s team to render some judgment on that.
-- White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, April 23, 2015, being questioned by ABC news reporter Jonathan Karl regarding the financial dealings of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she was part of the administration of President Barack Obama.

Comment: This is an evasion, perhaps of the "not my decision" sort. The memorandum in question was an understanding reached between Clinton and the Obama administration, so the administration can reasonably be asked whether she lived up to what it outlined. And, even if the standards were simply something Clinton outlined for herself, she did it while she was a member of Obama's cabinet and it concerned her behavior in that position. So, again, what reason does the Obama administration have for not weighing in on whether those standards were fulfilled?

JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: In his remarks at the Ted Kennedy the other day, the president lamented that our politics today are not more purposeful and elevated. He also lamented that too often ideology gets in the way of basic respect. Those remarks struck me because this week we saw my CNN colleague Dana Bash do an interview with the Senate minority leader Harry Reid in which he asked him about his decision in the midst of the 2012 presidential campaign to take to the Senate floor and accuse Mitt Romney of not paying his taxes, and when Dana Bash mentioned this to him, she mentioned how it seemed to some people McCarthyite. And of course no evidence has ever been produced that Mitt Romney failed to pay his taxes, and I wonder if President Obama, who has lamented this lack of civility in our politics, this disrespect in our politics, has any view of Harry Reid telling Dana Bash, "Well Romney didn't get elected did he?"

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Well I haven't had the opportunity to talk to the president about Sen. Reid's interview. Obviously, Sen. Reid is somebody who is going to decide for himself about what he says on the Senate floor. He obviously is a vocal supporter of the president, and they have had a partnership that will go down in history as very productive. But ultimately, it is up to Sen. Reid to decide, what he is going to say on the House floor. There are a number of things Sen. Reid, over his career that, he has said pretty proudly were independent of the view of anyone else.

JAMES ROSEN: But it is the president's choice and his spokesman's choice to call out conduct unbecoming of our highest elected officials, when it is in fact unbecoming. Are you going to take this opportunity now?

JOSH EARNEST: Not when it is three years old.
-- White House press briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest April 1, 2015. The quote in question comes from a March 31, 2015, interview of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) by CNN's Dana Bash.

Comment: First, this is the "not my decision" evasion. Yes, Reid is in charge of what Reid says, but that's true of most everybody, right? How does that prevent us from criticizing Reid's remarks (or anyone else's remarks, for that matter)? Second, there's no good reason that President Barack Obama can't police civility on remarks that are three years old. Obama recently criticized remarks made by Republicans about the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") back when it was passed in 2010, why can't he comment on remarks made in 2012?

PLANTE: After that scathing report about police conduct in Ferguson, do you think the police chief or others should be fired?

OBAMA: Well, ultimately, those are going to be local decisions. But, the Justice Department, obviously, in light of this investigation and the well-documented instances of bias, is going to, I think, be in a position to press for action at that local level.
-- President Barack Obama, during interview with CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante, posted March 8, 2015. The remarks concern a federal report on racial discrimination by the police department in Ferguson, MO.

Comment: Obama is offering a "not my decision" evasion. Granted, it is not in the president's authority to fire a local police chief, but that doesn't mean he can't express any opinion about whether the police chief ought to be fired.

WALLACE: Do you believe that a woman has a right to end a pregnancy at any point during those nine months?

WALKER: Well, I think ultimately, I mean pro-life because that's an unborn child. When I think of the ultrasound picture that Tonette, my wife, and I saw of our first son, who's now going to be 21 this June, it's indistinguishable not to recognize that it's a human life. That's why I'm pro-life. My point is we acted on the grounds that we have legally to be able to act under the Supreme Court's decision. We'll act that way at the federal level if we were in a position like that, as well. But ultimately, it is a life.

WALLACE: But ultimately it's her choice?

WALKER: Well, legally, that's what it is under the guidelines that was provided from the Supreme Court.

WALLACE: And would you change that law?

WALKER: Well, I -- that's not a change you can make. The Supreme Court ultimately has made that. I believe in the right to life and I believe that there are other things that can be done at both the state and the federal level.
-- Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), March 1, 2015, during an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday.

Comment: This seems like a "not my decision" evasion. Granted, a president can't unilaterally change abortion law, but that doesn't mean they can't work with Congress (and, in addition, appoint Supreme Court justices) to do so. The question remains: would Walker, as president, act in ways that would change the current laws on abortion?

BECKY QUICK: You were at a dinner last night where Rudy Giuliani spoke, you were sitting just a few chairs away when he said, "I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country." What do you think about those comments, because they are raising a stir this morning.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: The mayor can speak for himself. I’m not going to comment on what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself as well. I’ll tell you, I love America, and I think there are plenty of people — Democrat, Republican, independent, everyone in between — who love this country. I think we should talk about ways that we love this country, and that we feel passionate about America, whether it's about making sure everyone can succeed and live the American Dream, or whether it's talking with.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: But did you agree with those comments? Were you offended by those comments? What was your reaction when you heard them?

WALKER: I’m in New York, I’m used to people saying things that are aggressive out there.
-- Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI), February 19, 2015, on "Squawk Box".

Comment: This is an evasion, perhaps the "not my decision" evasion. The point is, Giuliani is speaking, not simply for himself, but attributing a deplorable mindset to President Barack Obama. Given that Obama can speak for himself, does Walker think it's OK to speak for Obama and declare that Obama doesn't love the country or the people in it? Would it be OK if someone did the same to Walker? Walker seems comfortable speaking for lots of other people -- "Democrat, Republican, independent, everyone in between" -- and saying that they love the country, so why can't he do the same for Obama and therefore repudiate Giuliani?

BARACK OBAMA: … my sense is that the Supreme Court is about to make a shift, one that I welcome, which is to recognize that — having hit a critical mass of states that have recognized same-sex marriage — it doesn’t make sense for us to now have this patchwork system and that it’s time to recognize that, under the equal protection clause of the United States, same-sex couples should have the same rights as anybody else.
BEN SMITH: There are a few officials in Alabama, starting with Judge Roy Moore, but also a number of probate judges, who are resisting that. … Is there anything you’d say to him?
OBAMA: You know, I think that the courts at the federal level will have something to say to him.
-- President Barack Obama, during BuzzFeed interview, released February 11, 2015, with Ben Smith.

Comment: This seems like a "not my decision" evasion. Granted, the federal courts will rule on the matter, but Obama has an opinion on it, what's stopping him from voicing that opinion to Moore?

QUESTION: Yesterday, the President in his news conference raised some eyebrows by saying that the victims of the shooting in Paris at the kosher deli were random. Your colleague at the White House has apparently said something similar today. Is that really – I mean, does the Administration really believe that these people – that the victims of this attack were not singled out because they were of a particular faith?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know – I believe if I remember the victims specifically – they were not all victims of one background or one nationality. So I think what they mean by that is – I don't know that they spoke to the targeting of the grocery store or that specifically, but the individuals who were impacted.
QUESTION: Well, I mean – right, but when the Secretary went and paid respects to it, he was with a member of the Jewish community there. Was --
MS. PSAKI: Naturally, given that is – the grocery store is one that --
QUESTION: Well, don’t you think that the target may be – even if all the – even if the victims came from different backgrounds or different religions, different nationalities, wasn’t the – the store itself was the target, was it not? I mean --
MS. PSAKI: But that’s different than the individuals being – I don’t have any more to really --
QUESTION: All right. Well, does the Administration believe that this was an anti-Jewish – or an attack on the Jewish community in Paris?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think we’re going to speak on behalf of French authorities and what they believe was the situation at play here.
QUESTION: But – yeah, but if a guy goes into a kosher market and starts shooting it up, you don’t – he’s not looking for Buddhists, is he?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Matt, I think it’s relevant that, obviously, the individuals in there who were shopping and working at the store --
QUESTION: Who does one – who does the Administration expect shops at a kosher – I mean, I might, but an attacker going into a store that is clearly identified as being one of – as identified with one specific faith – I’m not sure I can understand how it is that you can’t say that this was a targeted attack on the Jewish --
MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have more for you, Matt. It’s an issue for the French Government to address.
-- State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki, February 10, 2015, responding to a questioner (Matt Lee of the Associated Press?) during the daily press briefing. The question pertains to President Barack Obama's comments in a Vox interview the previous day about "a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris", a reference to the January, 9, 2015, attack on a Jewish market in Porte de Vincennes (Paris), France, by Amedy Coulibaly.

Comment: Psaki is using the "not my decision" evasion here to avoid stating whether the attack on the market was motivated by anti-Semitism. Obviously, the police in France will lead the investigation on what happened, but does that mean no one else, including American officials, can voice a position on what motivated the attack? Hasn't the Obama administration commented on the motive behind attacks in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world?


Examples from 2012.


Examples from 2008.

Geoff Greenwood, KCCI reporter: Is [NY] Senator [and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary] Clinton trustworthy?
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards: That's what these caucus-goers are going to have to decide.
-- November 20, 2007.

Comment: Of course, voters in the caucus are going to have to decide whether they think Clinton is trustworthy enough to be worth voting for. But how does that prevent Edwards from expressing his own thoughts about whether she is trustworthy?

John King, Correspondent for CNN: Is [Democratic Senator (IL)] Barack Obama experienced enough, in your view, to be President of the United States at this time?
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (NY): Well, the voters are going to have to draw those conclusions. Where we disagree, I think it's fair to draw that difference, but I'm trying to get as much interaction with voters as I can in my conversation with Americans about what I would do as president, and of course when we're in a debate format, we may answer questions differently and I think it's fair for voters to draw their own conclusions.
-- July 26, 2007.

Comment: Clinton's response is an evasion. Of course, the voters are the ones who will decide who the next president is, but how does that prevent Clinton from voicing an opinion about whether Obama has enough experience to be president? Since making this comment, Clinton has expressed opinions regarding whether Obama has enough experience to be president.

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)

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