If you are a young lawyer, struggling to learn what a non-responsive answer really looks like, you can’t do better than this question-and-answer session between Jake Tapper and Presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs. If Gibbs were any slicker, he’d just ooze right out of the room:
TAPPER: Robert, in terms of what Geithner and Summers had to say yesterday [stating on the Sunday news shows that there would be middle class tax increases, talk the Gibbs said was "hypothetical"], it really wasn’t too much of a hypothetical back-and- forth. It was about do they think it’s possible to do deficit reduction. But that’s not…
GIBBS: Well, we can quibble about whether the word “possible” or the word “hypothetical”…
TAPPER: Is it possible to do everything the president wants to do without increasing revenues from the middle class?
GIBBS: Right. And I want to just state again clearly here that the president has made a very clear commitment to not raise taxes on middle-class families…
TAPPER: But economists, including the president’s own economists, don’t necessarily think that it’s possible to do so without raising taxes on the middle class. How is that dealing candidly with the American people?
GIBBS: Well, again, there are a series of things that have to be done. I think you’ll actually hear an announcement from Treasury later this afternoon about how much money has to be borrowed versus what they thought was going to have to be borrowed and what will have to be borrowed as a result of financial stabilization in terms of cutting the amount of money that’s needed. Again, I think the president has been clear on this. The first thing that we can do — the most important thing that we can do right now is get our economy growing again. We know that the deficit — part of the reason that the deficit is up right now is that the economy has slowed down so much that tax revenues, because this is what happens in an economic slowdown, have regressed a lot. I think the president — obviously, we’re going to have to make some decisions down the road on some of the president’s legislative priorities and some of the things that Congress wants to do, to evaluate how we move back towards — on a path toward fiscal sustainability.
Most transparent presidency — evah! Yeah, right.
The administration does win the award, however, for the most weasely press secretary, that’s for darn certain. I don’t blame Gibbs, though. He’s tasked with being the messenger whose job description requires him to hide a message so un-palatable and so at odds with prior promises that he can nothing but engage in meaningless prevarication.
As you may recall, I once wrote that liberal Supreme Court justices tend to be incredibly boring, long-winded, obfusctatory writers, while conservative Supreme Court justices tend to be clear, and often charming, or exciting, writers. As a young lawyer, I thought it was just a coincidence that liberals were bad writers and conservative good writers. I’ve since realized, of course, that bad thoughts make for bad writing. It takes a lot of explanation to justify a bad idea, and a lot of smoke to cover just how bad it is.