When you don’t understand the question….

I was excited to watch the LGBT issues debate on LOGO last night, and the historical debate didn’t disappoint.

(I only wish I had LOGO — I had to watch the debate on my computer, and my internet can be awful at times. I missed part of Senator Edwards and all of Senator Clinton. My internet then cut out for the rest of the night, which is why there were no posts from yesterday.)

The most shocking moment of the debate was when Governor Richardson took his seat. Melissa Etheridge, one of the panelists, asked him if he believed that homosexuality was biological or a choice.

“It’s a choice,” he said simply.

My mouth dropped open. Richardson has always been one of the worst speakers of all the candidates, but this was something beyond egregious. (You should have heard the gasp my roommate, Christie, made when I told her about it later.)

“I — um, I don’t think you understand the question,” Etheridge said. She was clearly in shock as well.

Richardson went on to say, “I’m not a scientist, but all people should be equal,” a half dozen times, and as time went on, it became clear that he simply misspoke. His camp also released a statement after the debate saying that he does not believe homosexuality is a choice.

Why am I bringing this up here?

I felt the same way when I had my interview on NPR. I totally missed the point of the first caller’s question, and because of that, I got so much hate mail from listeners.

I don’t think that Melissa Etheridge phrased the question incorrectly. There wasn’t anything wrong. I think that this just goes to show how complicated language can be, at times, especially when you have to answer questions cold. Writing is different; at least you get a chance to look over your work before submitting it.

Sometimes, words do not take effect immediately. You need a few moments to let them take shape the way you need to let one of Mario Batali’s risotti cool before you can taste the subtle pumpkin flavor. (Can you tell it’s Restaurant Week? I went to Smith and Wollensky last night, or as my family now calls it, F—ing and Awesome.)

Sometimes, you need a minute. Bill Richardson did not get that minute. Most people understood what the question meant — I sure know that I did, and I’m sure that most people did — but he didn’t.

That being said, I knew it was over for Richardson as soon as I saw the first Democratic debate. It was painful. He has done so much great work and he has, after Senator Clinton, the best political experience of all the Democratic (and Republican) candidates. It’s too bad that his public speaking skills are costing him his candidacy.

If a Democrat gets elected, he’ll be in the Cabinet, for sure.


8 responses to “When you don’t understand the question….

  1. Thank you for this post. I was livid when I saw Gov. Richardson make that statement and in fact sent him an email saying so. Your post brings some perspective. But he really is a lousy public speaker — his appearance on Meet the Press was also atrocious. I agree he would make a good cabinet person. Again, thanks for giving me some perspective.

  2. Thanks, Dave. It was a great debate. I was furious when he made that statement — and in disbelief that he could misconstrue a question like that, a question that surely everyone was expecting to be asked at some point. He’s only human, though.

  3. … and the historical debate didn’t disappoint.

    Wha-huh? I am guessing historical = historic? So close in spelling, but quite different in meaning — a distinction no grammar goddess should be without!

  4. Do you think Bill Richardson was born with an ineptitude for public speaking, or was it his choice?

    More importantly, did I use the word “ineptitude” right in that last sentence?

  5. Dennis Fischman

    I take your point, that Richardson flubbed his answer. Still, I do think there’s something wrong with the question, and it’s not grammar. Sexuality doesn’t have to be biological OR a choice. It can be both. I know a woman who never looked at another woman until she was married to a man and became a mother and a grandmother, and then she spent the next twenty years with a female partner. I know another woman who was the “big dyke on campus” and active in lesbian politics for years, and then she married a man. Sure, you could say they were always really bisexual, but that’s not how it appeared to them. I would let them have the final word on that. And it has nothing to do with whether people should be able to marry, love, or even just have sex with someone of the same sex. If those are choices, they are choices that should be protected.

  6. I thought you were great on NPR 🙂 (I thought I was the only grammar freak younger than 60!)

  7. “He has done so much great work and he has, after Senator Clinton, the best political experience of all the Democratic (and Republican) candidates.”

    I think I disagree with this statement but I am not sure I understand it well enough to disagree.

    Mrs. Clinton’s poltical experience is extremely limited from the preseptective of serving in public office. Richardson has a ton of experince from that perspective.

    On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton has much more experience in the sense that she has been one of Mr. Clinton’s top campaign advisors for a state-wide governors election and two presidential elections and also there is her own senitorial election. Mr. Richardson has decidely less experience of this type.

    So, in some respects Mr.Richarson’s experience is much more expansive than Mrs. Clintons.

  8. “Writing is different; at least you get a chance to look over your work before submitting it.”

    Exactly! But it appears that you… well, don’t.

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