Are gay people born gay?
Or is sexual orientation a choice?
Well? What do you think? Which one is it?
That question, that one right there, is the first question I want asked of each and every candidate for President of the United States in 2016. I want this question put to every candidate and put to them hard. No evasion, no dissembling, no moving the goalposts, no changing the subject. Look into the lights, face the camera, and answer the question: Is sexual orientation something you’re born with or is it a choice?
Wait. What’s that, Jim? That’s the first question you want put to the candidates? You don’t maybe think there are more pressing issues?
Oh I think there are many significant issues we as a nation and as a people will face in the coming years. Conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere. Civil rights at home. Energy. Resources. Trade. The changing climate. Technology. Immigration. Education. The list of challenges is endless and growing.
And that’s why it is imperative we know exactly what we’re getting in a president.
So why do I think this particular question should be first on the agenda?
Well, take a minute and think about it.
Think about it in the context of rights and liberty, in the context of the ongoing debate over the role of government, in the context of society and individuals and where the line between the two is drawn.
Why this question?
Because it’s the perfect test.
As an American, an American, how you answer that question tells the rest of us everything we need to know – well, if we’re paying attention, I mean.
That question, that one right there, is the little chirping bird deep in the coal mine.
There is only one correct answer for someone who wants to be president.
As an American, there really is only one correct answer.
Is sexual orientation something you’re born with or is it a choice?
Now think carefully before you answer. It might be a trick question.
Last week Jeb Bush shot himself in the foot repeatedly when asked the following:
Knowing what we know now, would you have launched the Iraq war?
Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq?
That’s a fluff question.
It’s an easy high lob, on the order of “So, what do you read?”
Any competent politician worth his anonymous Wall Street donor money should have been able to field that with a non-committal “If you’re asking me to second guess a previous president, I’m not going to do that. To answer your question: obviously any person equipped with the infallible benefit of hindsight might have done things differently. Next question.”
Instead, Bush had his own Palin Moment.
“Yes,” Jeb declared confidently. Knowing the intelligence was wrong, I still would have invaded Iraq.
The nuts don’t fall very far from the bush in this dynasty, do they?
Yes. Knowing the intelligence was wrong, I still would have invaded Iraq.
If you listen to the video of Jeb Bush’s interview, you can actually hear his public relations people soiling their underwear just off camera.
Of course, Bush began to backpedal the same day. Because while there are many correct ways that question could have been answered, “yes” is not one of them.
With the iceberg suddenly before him, Jeb threw the rudder hard over and declared he would have made “different decisions.”
You have to assume his cellphone rang shortly thereafter and Jeb felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up, like it does when Dick Cheney offers to take you quail hunting in some remote Texas cornfield.
So Jeb then tacked hard to port and blamed the US Intelligence community (i.e. people like me) for steering his big brother wrong.
And if you listen carefully, you can actually hear Jeb’s public relations people whimpering in the background, because blaming the military, as a Republican, might just not be the best strategy – especially when it’s provable bullshit.
It took a week, and no doubt being called onto the plastic in front of the GOP Brain Trust, but eventually Jeb got it right: He blamed Obama.
And that works for Republicans.
And what does that tell you about Jeb Bush? He couldn’t manage a simple fluff question without making a mess of it, without prep and handling. And in fact, Bush’s first impulse was to cover for his family instead of putting responsibility on The Decider where it belongs. Then he blamed the military and the intelligence community instead of their Commander In Chief. Despite the very provable fact that the intelligence was anything but definitive and that hundreds of red flags were thrown on it before George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and especially that arrogant little runt Donald Rumsfeld shut out all debate and declared their version of reality absolute. And that tells you exactly what you’d get in president Jeb Bush, a guy that will spend the next four years covering for his family and friends.
But a bigger problem is this: Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq?
Seriously? That’s the question?
Say, Mr. Candidate, knowing what we know now about Imperial Japan, would you as Commander in Chief have done anything different on December 6th, 1941? Knowing what we now know about the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, would you have sent America into Vietnam? Tell us, Jeb, knowing what we now know, would you in fact have chased the Iraqi army up the Highway of Death straight back to Baghdad in 1991 and just killed Saddam then instead of wimping out like your pop?
Look, I don’t care what Jeb might have done if he was magically transported into the past like Biff Tannen and his 2015 copy of Grays Sports Almanac.
I don’t care if Jeb Bush might or might not invade Iraq in 2004, I want to know if he’s planning on invading Iran in 2017.
It took Jeb Bush nearly a week to get his answer straight and in the end, what did you really learn?
Bush’s final answer is wrong and idiotic, but leads directly to one obvious follow-up question that the media has so far failed to address.
The interviewer let Bush dig his own hole, and then let him climb out instead of shoveling dirt on his head, instead of asking this:
Governor Bush, you blame incorrect intelligence for your brother’s decision to send Americans into a decade-long war that has actually made things worse and directly created the very enemies we now face.
You blame President Obama for not staying the course, for allowing Iraq to disintegrate into chaos and civil war.
As such, please tell America how you as president, would yourself not fall into such a trap.
Describe in detail how you personally would ensure accurate, timely, and comprehensive intelligence and exactly how you would keep your own cabinet and advisors from making the same mistakes Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al made. Using Iran as an example, describe in detail and provide verifiable sources that support Republican claims of Iranian nuclear ambitions to a degree that justifies preemptive war (unless of course you don’t agree with the calls for war from your own party, in which case please look directly into the camera and clearly say so). Describe in detail your comprehensive plan for the invasion of Iran, how many lives you expect to lose on both sides, the total cost to the American taxpayer to include post-war reconstruction and the resulting increase in the national debt, the length of time you expect America to be involved in this conflict both in actual combat operations and post-conflict occupation and stabilization, and finally your detailed and fully developed post-war reconstruction plan that will bring Iran to peaceful non-nuclear stable Western style democracy. Please be specific on all counts.
But no, that’s not what happened. Instead the press let Bush blame Obama. And at this point, as a voter, you know nothing more about President Jeb Bush than you did two weeks ago – other than he needs some serious prep time with his puppet masters.
And it’s important, because this question really isn’t just about past wars or possible future ones.
How a candidate answers the question of “Given what we know now…” tells you how as president they’ll form their strategic and tactical worldview – and whether or not they will take the steps necessary to ensure that worldview approximates reality even if it’s not what they want to hear.
The answer tells you whether the candidate is the dog or the tail.
Bush’s answer puts him right in between the two - and I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out what part of the dog that is.
It doesn’t take a political genius to see the big issues in 2016.
War in the Middle East is one of those issues.
Another is Climate Change.
Every single candidate should be pressed to define their position on Climate Change directly and without equivocation.
Like that first question I asked you to think about, and like the question of Iraq, how a candidate answers the question of Climate Change speaks to a far, far larger issue.
Combined with the question of war and intelligence, how a candidate answers the question of climate change tells you very, very specifically what kind of person you’re dealing with, one who operates in the real world or one that is motivated by blind doctrine. These two issues, war and climate change, seem like two different things, but from the Oval Office they are simply two aspects of the same issue.
If you tend to dogmatically see what you want in strategic intelligence even though it repeatedly leads to disaster and death on a massive scale, then you are very likely to do exactly the same when it comes to science – with exactly the same results.
This is crucial.
It is crucial because everything else depends from this point.
Energy. Food. Trade. The price of goods. The availability of resources. The Economy. Taxes. Opportunity. Peace. War. Population growth and displacement and the resulting refugee and immigration issues. Education. Crime. Stability. And even religion.
Everything you see in the headlines of your news media every single day depends from this point: whether or not the leader of the largest and most powerful nation on earth operates from pragmatism based reality or from political dogmatism.
And that takes us right back around to where we began.
Sexual orientation. Are you born that way or is it a choice?
Well, what is your answer?
Careful though, I warned you it might be a trick question.
Don’t know? Not sure? Tempted to answer with dogma and sound bites?
Try this: if you adopt a child are you any less a parent simply because you chose parenthood instead of the child being born to you naturally? How about this: If you’re drafted, are you more of a patriot because you didn’t get a choice than a veteran who volunteered?
Not helping huh?
There is a correct answer to the question, you know. Just as there were correct answers to the questions posed above. And just as with the questions of war and science, this is really about something else.
It’s about freedom.
It’s about liberty.
It’s about the very things that make us Americans.
We Americans used to say this of our country:
I don’t agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.
And that, that right there in no uncertain terms, is the correct answer.
Whether we come to it through the accident of genetics and environment or by choice, the freedom to define who we are, each of us personally, is the only truly inalienable right.
Men can take away your freedom and your guns and your speech and your religion, they can beat you down and lock you away in a deep dark hole, but the only thing that neither gods nor men can take away from you is the ability to define yourself. This is precisely what our ancestors were saying when they declared they were founding a nation based on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This was the entire point of our nation, from the Revolution to the Civil War to Women’s Suffrage to the Civil Rights Movement to same sex marriage and equal protection under the law regardless of race, creed, color, age, ethnicity, origin, or orientation.
Whether we are born the way we are or whether we choose it is a bullshit question.
But the answer does matter.
In the context of rights and liberty, in the context of the ongoing debate over the role of government, in the context of society and individuals and where the line between the two is drawn, among the ongoing issues of war and conflict, energy, climate, education, trade, resources, technology, immigration, it is imperative that we not lose sight of who we are and what our country is supposed to be.
Just like the question put to Jeb Bush up above, how someone answers tells you far more about who they really are than the actual answer itself. It tells you whether they will stand up for liberty, for freedom, for justice, for all Americans, for all human beings, regardless, or if they are slaves to dogma and ideology.
And if they won’t do that, if they won’t stand for all, even the ones they disagree with, then the rest is irrelevant.
That’s why the question should come first.
Americans today often lament politicians no longer listen to them.
Maybe it’s time for us to start really listening to the politicians.