Take, for example, a pair of questions from John DiStaso, a veteran political reporter at the Manchester Union Leader (a debate co-host), directed at Herman Cain. The question was strong, with a full list of wanted details:
“Could you be specific regarding ages, income levels what is your specific—specific—Social Security reform plan, with regard to raising the retirement age—what ages—cutting benefits, and at what income level means testing cutting in?”
“Let’s fix the problem. And that is to restructure Social Security,” Cain began, with an answer that included nary an age or a dollar figure.
A brief “You didn’t answer my question” could have done wonders. But King soon chimed in with “we’re going to keep the conversation moving,” leaving Cain’s retirement security plans entirely unsketched.
Just after that non-exchange was a question from Jennifer Vaughn, an anchor at WMUR, the local ABC affiliate, and another co-host. Her question was succinct, the kind that would seem to demand a yes or no response.
“The treasury department says the United States will hit its credit limit on August 2. Do you believe that we will ultimately have to raise the debt ceiling?” she asked Governor Romney.
“I believe we will not raise the debt ceiling unless the president finally, finally, is wiling to be a leader on issues that the American people care about,” Romney began his sidestepping response.
Vaughn made a second attempt: “Governor, what happens if you don’t raise it? What happens then? Is it ok not to?”
“Well, what happens if we continue to spend, time and time again, year and year again, more money than you take in?” was Romney’s second artful dodge.
Again, straightforwardly pointing out that the fact went unanswered could have done wonders. Something like: “Governor, you didn’t answer my question: what I’m asking is if you believe the US will eventually have to raise the debt ceiling, or do you favor default?”
So, despite King’s plea at the top of the proceedings, the candidates declined to answer the questions as they were asked.
For debate veterans, that’s certainly not a surprise—it’s the normal state of affairs. And that’s the way it will stay until debate moderators learn to stick up for themselves, their questions, and the voters by pointing out when candidates just brush by.