WHEN A CANDIDATE for high office can’t respond to a simple question with an honest answer, attention should be paid. More often than not these days, that kind of behavior is just greeted with a shrug by the members of the elite media, but specific acts of evasion are worth studying. Because if something’s important enough for a candidate that they concoct a ludicrous non-response, there’s probably a sore point under there somewhere.
And when a candidate won’t directly answer the question, it’s also legitimate to speculate why that might be.
I’m not talking here about the positions on the issues that the candidates are taking, and whether they are logically consistent or wise. I’m not fact-checking. I’m just looking at evasive responses, and what they mean.
So here are some of the most glaring evasions of Thursday night’s Democratic debate in Brooklyn.
The first time she was asked to release these transcripts, by my colleague Lee Fang, Clinton’s response was to laugh and keep moving. This exchange with CNN’s Dana Bash shows her answers have not gotten any less evasive over time.
BASH: Secretary Clinton, if I may, Senator Sanders keeping bringing up the speeches that you gave to Goldman Sachs. So I’d like to ask you, so you’ve said that you don’t want to release the transcripts, until everybody does it, but if there’s nothing in those speeches that you think would change voters’ minds, why not just release the transcripts and put this whole issue to bed?
CLINTON: You know, first of all — first of all, there isn’t an issue. When I was in public service serving as the senator from New York, I did stand up to the banks. I did make it clear that their behavior would not be excused.
I’m the only one on this stage who did not vote to deregulate swaps and derivatives, as Senator Sanders did, which led to a lot of the problems that we had with Lehman Brothers.
Now, if you’re going to look at the problems that actually caused the Great Recession, you’ve got to look at the whole picture. It was a giant insurance company, AIG. It was an investment bank, Lehman Brothers. It was mortgage companies like Countrywide.
I’m not saying that Senator Sanders did something untoward when he voted to deregulate swaps and derivatives …
BASH: Madam Secretary …
CLINTON: … but the fact is he did.
CLINTON: And that contributed to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and started the cascade …
BASH: Senator Sanders, one second, please. Secretary Clinton, the question was about the transcripts of the speeches to Goldman Sachs.
Why not release them?
CLINTON: I have said, look, there are certain — there are certain expectations when you run for president. This is a new one. And I’ve said, if everybody agrees to do it — because there are speeches for money on the other side. I know that.
But I will tell you this, there is — there is a long-standing expectation that everybody running release their tax returns, and you can go — you can go to my website and see eight years of tax returns. And I’ve released 30 years of tax returns. And I think every candidate, including Senator Sanders and Donald Trump, should do the same.
BASH: Secretary Clinton, we’re going to get to the tax returns later, but just to put a button on this, you’re running now for the Democratic nomination.
BASH: And it is your Democratic opponent and many Democratic voters who want to see those transcripts. It’s not about the Republicans …
CLINTON: You know, let’s set the same standard for everybody. When everybody does it, OK, I will do it, but let’s set and expect the same standard on tax returns. Everybody does it, and then we move forward.
Kudos to Dana Bash for pursuing the question. “When everybody does it,” is now right up there with Donald Trump’s “I didn’t start it.” This is flat-out evasion.
Reasonable Surmise: Clinton said embarrassing things during those speeches that belie her tough-on-Wall-Street rhetoric and she doesn’t want them to be public.
Hillary Clinton challenged Sanders to release his tax returns, which is entirely reasonable. When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked him to respond, it went like this:
SANDERS: [O]f course we will release our taxes. Jane does our taxes. We’ve been a little bit busy lately. You’ll excuse us. But we will …
BLITZER: Senator …
SANDERS: We will get them out.
BLITZER: Senator …
CLINTON: Well, you know, there are a lot of copy machines around.
BLITZER: Senator, when are you — when are you — you’ve been asked for weeks and weeks to release your tax returns.
SANDERS: Well, I think we got one that’s coming out tomorrow.
BLITZER: Which one?
SANDERS: Last year’s.
BLITZER: What about 2013, all the other ones?
SANDERS: You’ll get them, yes. Yeah, look, I don’t want to get anybody very excited. They are very boring tax returns. No big money from speeches, no major investments. Unfortunately — unfortunately, I remain one of the poorer members of the United States Senate. And that’s what that will show.
BLITZER: So, Senator, just to be clear, tomorrow you will release the 2014 tax returns from you and your family?
BLITZER: And what about the earlier ones? What’s the problem …
BLITZER: What’s taking so long? Because you just have to go to the filing cabinet, make a copy, and release them.
SANDERS: Wolf, the answer is, you know, what we have always done in my family is, Jane does them. And she’s been out on the campaign trail. We will get them out. We’ll get them out very shortly. It’s not a big deal.
“Jane does them” is a non-answer. He should have released them ages ago. And it sounds like he may be getting ready to blame Jane for something.
Reasonable Surmise: There is something hinky with his taxes, and his campaign staff is scrambling to figure out how to contain the damage.
This was really one for the ages. Clinton appeared to answer the question affirmatively, but then made it clear she was responding affirmatively to another question entirely that hadn’t been asked. Then she assured us she wasn’t actually answering yes or no to the question she had been asked. Maybe Bill could have pulled that off, but not Hillary.
When Hillary Clinton says, “I have supported it,” I guess it depends upon what the meaning of “it” is.
BLITZER: Secretary, let’s talk about Social Security, another critically important issue. Senator Sanders has challenged you to give a clear answer when it comes to extending the life of Social Security and expanding benefits. Are you prepared to lift the cap on taxable income, which currently stands at $118,500? Yes or no, would you lift the cap?
CLINTON: I have said repeatedly, Wolf, I am going to make the wealthy pay into Social Security to extend the Social Security Trust Fund. That is one way. If that is the way that we pursue, I will follow that.
But there are other ways. We should be looking at taxing passive income by wealthy people. We should be looking at taxing all of their investment.
But here’s the real issue, because I — I’ve heard this, I’ve seen the reports of it. I have said from the very beginning, we are going to protect Social Security. I was one of the leaders in the fight against Bush when he was trying to privatize Social Security.
But we also, in addition to extending the Trust Fund, which I am absolutely determined to do, we’ve got to help people who are not being taken care of now. And because Social Security started in the 1930s, a lot of women have been left out and left behind.
And it’s time that we provide more benefits for widows, divorcees, for caregivers, for women who deserve more from the Social Security …
BLITZER: Thank you, Secretary.
CLINTON: — system and that will be my highest priority.
Go ahead, Senator.
SANDERS: An interesting comment, but you didn’t answer the question.
CLINTON: I did. If that’s the way we’re …
SANDERS: No, you didn’t. My legi …
CLINTON: — yes, I did.
SANDERS: Can I answer …
CLINTON: I did answer the …
SANDERS: — may I please …
CLINTON: Well, don’t — don’t put words …
SANDERS: — can I have …
CLINTON: — into my mouth and say something…
SANDERS: — do I not?
CLINTON: — that’s not accurate.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator.
SANDERS: All right. Essentially what you described is my legislation, which includes (INAUDIBLE) …
SANDERS: Now, we’ve got — here is the issue. Your answer has been the same year after year. In fact, the idea that I’m bringing forth, I have to admit it, you know, it wasn’t my idea. It was Barack Obama’s idea in 2008, the exact same idea.
SANDERS: He called for lifting the cap, which is now higher — it’s at 118 — and starting at 250 and going on up. If you do that, you’re going to extend the life of Social Security for 58 years. You will significantly expand benefits by 1,300 bucks a year for seniors and disabled vets under $16,000 a year.
What’s wrong with that?
Are you prepared to support it?
CLINTON: I have supported it. You know, we are in vigorous agreement here, Senator.
SANDERS: You have sup …
CLINTON: I think it’s important …
CLINTON: — to point out that …
CLINTON: — you know, we’re — we’re having a discussion about the best way to raise money from wealthy people to extend the Social Security Trust Fund. Think about what the other side wants to do. They’re calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme. They still want to privatize it.
In fact, their whole idea is to turn over the Social Security Trust Fund to Wall Street, something you and I would never let happen.
SANDERS: All right, so …
CLINTON: So, yes, we both want to make sure …
SANDERS: Look, Wolf …
CLINTON: — Social Security (INAUDIBLE) …
SANDERS: — I am very glad that …
CLINTON: — and well-funded …
SANDERS: I am very glad to …
BLITZER: Thank you, Secretary.
BLITZER: Senator, go ahead.
SANDERS: — campaign of challenging, if I hear you correctly, Madam Secretary, you are now coming out finally in favor of lifting the cap on taxable income…
SANDERS: — and extending and expanding Social Security. If that is the case, welcome on board. I’m glad you’re here.
CLINTON: I — as he said, I’ve said the same thing for years. I didn’t say anything different tonight. We are going to extend the Social Security Trust Fund. There is still something called Congress. Now, I happen to support Democrats and I want to get Democrats to take back the majority in the United States Senate…
SANDERS: I’ve got to admit …
BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator.
SANDERS: — maybe I’m a little bit confused.
Are you or are you not supporting legislation to lift the cap on taxable income and expand Social Security for 58 years and increase benefits …
CLINTON: I am …
SANDERS: — yes or no?
CLINTON: I have said yes, we are going to pick the best way or combination …
SANDERS: Oh, you — ah.
CLINTON: — or combination of ways …
CLINTON: — you know …
CLINTON: — it — it’s all — it’s always a little bit, uh, challenging because, you know, if Senator Sanders doesn’t agree with how you are approaching something, then you are a member of the establishment.
Well, let me say then …
SANDERS: Well, look …
CLINTON: — let me say this …
CLINTON: — we are going to extend the Social Security Trust Fund. We’ve got some good ideas to do it. Let’s get a Congress elected …
BLITZER: Thank you.
CLINTON: — that will actually agree …
BLITZER: Well, thank you …
CLINTON: — with us in doing it.
Reasonable Surmise: Clinton is against lifting the cap, but doesn’t want to say so because it would infuriate the overwhelming majorities of Democratic (and Republican) voters who support lifting it. Her position is shared by a bipartisan elite in Washington who would rather lower benefits than raise taxes.
“I will certainly be willing to answer it. I think I did answer it,” Clinton said — while not answering it.
BLITZER: Thank you. Secretary Clinton, do you agree with Senator Sanders that Israel overreacts to Palestinians attacks, and that in order for there to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel must, quote, end its disproportionate responses?
CLINTON: I negotiated the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in November of 2012. I did it in concert with …
CLINTON: President Abbas of the Palestinian authority based in Ramallah, I did it with the then Muslim Brotherhood President, Morsi, based in Cairo, working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli cabinet. I can tell you right now I have been there with Israeli officials going back more than 25 years that they do not seek this kind of attacks. They do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages.
They do not believe that there should be a constant incitement by Hamas aided and abetted by Iran against Israel. And, so when it came time after they had taken the incoming rockets, taken the assaults and ambushes on their soldiers and they called and told me, I was in Cambodia, that they were getting ready to have to invade Gaza again because they couldn’t find anybody to talk to tell them to stop it, I flew all night, I got there, I negotiated that.
So, I don’t know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist tact, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself.
That does not mean — that does not mean that you don’t take appropriate precautions. And, I understand that there’s always second guessing anytime there is a war. It also does not mean that we should not continue to do everything we can to try to reach a two-state solution, which would give the Palestinians the rights and…
BLITZER: … Thank you …
CLINTON: … just let me finish. The rights and the autonomy that they deserve. And, let me say this, if Yasser Arafat had agreed with my husband at Camp David in the Late 1990s to the offer then Prime Minister Barat put on the table, we would have had a Palestinian state for 15 years.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator, go ahead — go ahead, Senator.
SANDERS: I don’t think that anybody would suggest that Israel invites and welcomes missiles flying into their country. That is not the issue.
And, you evaded the answer. You evaded the question. The question is not does Israel have a right to respond, nor does Israel have a right to go after terrorists and destroy terrorism. That’s not the debate. Was their response disproportionate?
I believe that it was, you have not answered that.
CLINTON: I will certainly be willing to answer it. I think I did answer it by saying that of course there have to be precautions taken but even the most independent analyst will say the way that Hamas places its weapons, the way that it often has its fighters in civilian garb, it is terrible.
I’m not saying it’s anything other than terrible. It would be great — remember, Israel left Gaza. They took out all the Israelis. They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people.
CLINTON: And what happened? Hamas took over Gaza.
So instead of having a thriving economy with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven that is getting more and more rockets shipped in from Iran and elsewhere.
SANDERS: There comes a time — there comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.
CLINTON: Well …
CLINTON: … you know, I have spoken about and written at some length the very candid conversations I’ve had with him and other Israeli leaders. Nobody is saying that any individual leader is always right, but it is a difficult position.
If you are from whatever perspective trying to seek peace, trying to create the conditions for peace when there is a terrorist group embedded in Gaza that does not want to see you exist, that is a very difficult challenge.
Reasonable Surmise: Clinton does not think Israel did anything wrong (possibly ever) and/or she is unwilling to say anything remotely critical of Israel, for political reasons. But she doesn’t want to say publicly that Gaza was OK with her because of the extraordinary brutality of the Israeli attack, which has been well-documented.
BLITZER: Thank you. Senator, Senator, you’ve slammed companies like General Electric and Verizon for moving jobs outside of the United States. Yesterday, the CEO of Verizon called your views contemptible and said in your home state of Vermont Verizon has invested more than $16 million and pays millions of dollars a year to local businesses. He says you are, quote, “uninformed on this issue” and disconnected from reality. Given your obvious contempt for large American corporations, how would you as president of the United States be able to effectively promote American businesses around the world?
Sanders was clearly not remotely interested in answering the question he was asked.
SANDERS: And this is — this is a perfect example, Wolf, of the kind of corporate greed which is destroying the middle class of this country. This gentleman makes $18 million a year in salary. That’s his — that’s his compensation. This gentleman is now negotiating to take away health care benefits of Verizon workers, outsource call center jobs to the Philippines, and — and trying to create a situation where workers will lose their jobs. He is not investing in the way he should in inner cities in America.
BLITZER: All right. Senator, but the question was, the question was, given your contempt for large American corporations, as president, how would you be able to promote American business around the world?
SANDERS: First of all, the word contempt is not right. There are some great businesses who treat their workers and the environment with respect.
SANDERS: Verizon happens not to be one of them.
Reasonable Surmise: No doubt to the chagrin of American multinationals, this is apparently not an issue that Sanders is worrying about.
BLITZER: — the issue of national security and foreign policy.
Secretary Clinton, President Obama says the worst mistake in office that he made over these past seven and a half years was not preparing for Libya after Moammar Qadafi was removed. You were his secretary of State.
Aren’t you also responsible for that?
CLINTON: Well, let me say I think we did a great deal to help the Libyan people after Qadafi’s demise. And here’s what we did.
We helped them hold two successful elections, something that is not easy, which they did very well because they had a pent up desire to try to chart their own future after 42 years of dictatorship.
I was very proud of that.
We got rid of the chemical weapons stockpile that Qadafi had, getting it out of Libya, getting it away from militias or terrorist groups.
We also worked to help them set up their government. We sent a lot of American experts there. We offered to help them secure their borders, to train a new military.
They, at the end, when it came to security issues, Wolf, did not want troops from any other country, not just us, European or other countries, in Libya.
And so we were caught in a very difficult position. They could not provide security on their own, which we could see and we told them that, but they didn’t want to have others helping to provide that security.
And the result has been a clash between different parts of the country, terrorists taking up some locations in the country.
And we can’t walk away from that. We need to be working with European and Arab partners …
BLITZER: Thank you.
CLINTON: — with the United Nations in order to continue to try to support them.
The Libyan people deserve a chance at democracy and self- government. And I, as president, will keep trying to give that to them.
BLITZER: Senator, go ahead.
SANDERS: According to the New York Times …
SANDERS: — for President Obama, this was a pretty tough call, like a 51-49 call, do you overthrow Qaddafi, who, of course, was a horrific dictator?
The New York Times told us it was Secretary Clinton who led the effort for that regime change. And this is the same type of mentality that supported the war in Iraq.
SANDERS: Look …
SANDERS: — Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein are brutal, brutal murdering thugs. No debate about that.
But what we have got to do and what the president was saying is we didn’t think thoroughly about what happens the day after you get rid of these dictators.
Regime change often has unintended consequences in Iraq and in Libya right now, where ISIS has a very dangerous foothold. And I think if you studied the whole history of …
SANDERS: — American involvement in regime change, you see that quite often.
After refusing to acknowledge that she made a mistake, Clinton then tried to blame Sanders for it.
CLINTON: — I — I would just point out that there was a vote in the Senate as to whether or not the United States should support the efforts by the Libyan people to protect themselves against the threats, the genocidal threats coming from Gadhafi, and whether we should go to the United Nations to seek Security Council support.
Senator Sanders voted for that, and that’s exactly what we did.
Sanders then pointed out:
SANDERS: Yes, 100-0 in the Senate voted for democracy in Libya and I would vote for that again. But that is very different from getting actively involved to overthrow and bring about regime change without fully understanding what the consequence of that regime change would be.
Reasonable Surmise: Clinton’s push for regime change in Libya had disastrous consequences, as even Obama has acknowledged — and Clinton knows it. But she doesn’t want to admit she made a mistake because it would support Sanders’s arguments about her judgment when it comes to foreign intervention.
SANDERS: Are you in favor of a tax on carbon so that we can transition away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy at the level and speed we need to do?
CLINTON: You know, I have laid out a set of actions that build on what President Obama was able to accomplish, building on the clean power plan, which is currently under attack by fossil fuels and the right in the Supreme Court, which is one of the reasons why we need to get the Supreme Court justice that President Obama has nominated to be confirmed so that we can actually continue to make progress.
I don’t take a back seat to your legislation that you’ve introduced that you haven’t been able to get passed. I want to do what we can do to actually make progress in dealing with the crisis. That’s exactly what I have proposed.
ERROL LOUIS: OK, thank you, Secretary Clinton.
CLINTON: And my approach I think is going to get us there faster without tying us up into political knots with a Congress that still would not support what you are proposing.
LOUIS: Senator Sanders, you’ve said that climate change is the greatest change to our nation’s security.
SANDERS: Secretary Clinton did not answer one simple question.
LOUIS: Excuse me, Senator, Senator, Senator, Senator, Senator …
SANDERS: Are you for a tax on carbon or not?
Reasonable Surmise: Clinton opposes a carbon tax, although many scientists say that imposing a cost on carbon is the only way to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. A carbon tax is strongly opposed by the fossil-fuel industry.
BLITZER: — if a Democratic Congress put a $15 minimum wage bill on your desk, would you sign it?
CLINTON: Well, of course I would. And I have supported …
CLINTON: — I have supported the fight for 15. I am proud to have the endorsement of most of the unions that have led the fight for 15. I was proud to stand on the stage with Governor Cuomo, with SEIU and others who have been leading this battle and I will work as hard as I can to raise the minimum wage. I always have. I supported that when I was in the Senate.
SANDERS: Well, look …
CLINTON: But what I have also said is that we’ve got to be smart about it, just the way Governor Cuomo was here in New York. If you look at it, we moved more quickly to $15 in New York City, more deliberately toward $12, $12.50 upstate then to $15. That is exactly my position. It’s a model for the nation and that’s what I will do as president.
BLITZER: Thank you.
CLINTON: Go as quickly as …
CLINTON: — to get to $15.
SANDERS: I am sure a lot of people are very surprised to learn that you supported raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour.
CLINTON: You know, wait a minute…
CLINTON: — wait a minute.
CLINTON: — wait, wait …
SANDERS: That’s just not accurate. Well …
CLINTON: Come on, I have stood on the debate stage …
SANDERS: — well and I …
CLINTON: — with Senator Sanders eight …
CLINTON: — times.
SANDERS: Excuse me.
CLINTON: I have said the …
SANDERS: Well …
CLINTON: Exact same thing.
BLITZER: Secretary, Senator, please.
CLINTON: If we can …
CLINTON: — raise it to $15 in New York…
CLINTON: — or Los Angeles or Seattle …
BLITZER: Secretary, the viewers …
CLINTON: — let’s do it.
BLITZER: If you’re both screaming at each other, the viewers won’t be able to hear either of you.
BLITZER: So please …
SANDERS: I will …
BLITZER: — don’t talk over each other.
SANDERS: I believe I was …
BLITZER: Go ahead.
SANDERS: — responding.
All right? When this campaign began, I said that we got to end the starvation minimum wage of $7.25, raise it to $15. Secretary Clinton said let’s raise it to $12. There’s a difference. And, by the way, what has happened is history has outpaced Secretary Clinton, because all over this country, people are standing up and they’re saying $12 is not good enough, we need $15 an hour.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Secretary. Secretary?
SANDERS: And suddenly …
BLITZER: Secretary, go ahead.
SANDERS: To suddenly …
CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you very much.
SANDERS: To suddenly announce now that you’re for $15, I don’t think is quite accurate.
BLITZER: All right. Secretary?
CLINTON: All right. I have said from the very beginning that I supported the fight for $15. I supported those on the front lines of the fight for — it happens to be true. I also — I supported the $15 effort in L.A. I supported in Seattle. I supported it for the fast food workers in New York.
The minimum wage at the national level right now is $7.25, right? We want to raise it higher than it ever has been, but we also have to recognize some states and some cities will go higher, and I support that. I have taken my cue from the Democrats in the Senate, led by Senator Patty Murray and others, like my good friend Kirsten Gillibrand, who has said we will set a national level of $12 and then urge any place that can go above it to go above it.
Going from $7.25 to $12 is a huge difference. Thirty-five million people will get a raise. One in four working mothers will get a raise. I want to get something done. And I think setting the goal to get to $12 is the way to go, encouraging others to get to $15. But, of course, if we have a Democratic Congress, we will go to $15.
BLITZER: Senator, go ahead.
SANDERS: Well, I think the secretary has confused a lot of people. I don’t know how you’re there for the fight for $15 when you say you want a $12-an-hour national minimum wage.
Now, in fact — in fact, there is an effort, Patty Murray has introduced legislation for $12 minimum wage. That’s good. I introduced legislation for $15 an hour minimum wage which is better.
And ultimately what we have got to determine is after massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top 0.1 percent, when millions of our people are working longer hours for low wages…
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.
SANDERS: I think we have got to be clear, not equivocate, $15 in minimum wage in 50 states in this country as soon as possible.
Reasonable Surmise: Clinton wishes she had supported the $15 minimum wage earlier, and now wants people to believe she did, even though she didn’t.