You’ve already heard the story. A GQ—GQ still exists?—reporter sandbagged Marco Rubio. Immediately the honorable gentleman from Florida thought his interview over, the journalist, Columbo-like, turned and asked, “Just one more thing, sir. What is the age of the earth?”
What Marco Rubio should have answered: "What's the age of the earth? What's the weight of a neutrino, you condescending twit?"
— William M. Briggs (@mattstat) November 20, 2012
Now, you see above what answer Rubio should have given. What he instead said was this:
I believe that God created the universe and that the six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it…it may not be 24-hour days, and that’s what I believe. I know there’s always a debate between those who read the Bible literally and those who don’t, and I think it’s a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I’m a part. My belief is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live—that is essentially true, that is fundamentally true. Now, whether it happened exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible: That, I don’t presume to know.
That strike you as wishy-washy? It should: it is. But I see I have misquoted Rubio. That answer was the one our esteemed leader President Obama gave when asked the same thing four years earlier. Rubio actually said this:
I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States…
And he went on, in best Obama mode, saying nothing. It was already a lost cause when Rubio glued onto his first sentence that inelegant, one-of-the-people appendage.
Again, what he should have said was, “What kind of ignorant, unprofessional question is that? Behave yourself, sir.” If the uncouth reporter persisted in pushing the query, a query which is utterly irrelevant to any matter that will ever come before the United States Senate, Rubio should have stood and left.
This isn’t for the reason you’re thinking about. Everybody knows the politics, that there are a significant number of people who “cling”, as Mr Obama would say, to the false but completely harmless belief that the earth is a few thousand years old, and that nobody wants to risk alienating them. These voters are, however, far less likely to decide their vote on a matter of science trivia than on the moral stance of the candidates.
No, there are two other reasons Rubio should have answered in the manner I suggested. Firstly, it’s too easy to make a simple mistake, which will (if the politician is a conservative) be amplified in the press into the scandal of the century. “Rubio said the earth was only 2 billion years old. What a rube–io!” What will never be mentioned is that reporters who make this claim will have only just looked up the right answer themselves.
The second reason to refuse is to discourage asinine behavior, and encourage respect, on the part of reporters. No question that is not relevant to the job itself should be entertained, especially questions that are quite obviously designed to be “gotchas.” Politicians, especially conservatives, need to understand that reporters are adversaries. Chris Christie gets this (but he is now in the doghouse).
Refusing to answer only works for truly irrelevant questions, such as age of the earth, mechanisms of evolution, and so forth. (Yes, you can always make a tenuous argument that any question is relevant, to which I say, don’t be an ass.) If a reporter asks, say, if abortion is wrong in the case of rape, if you don’t have an intelligent answer which includes, “All life is sacred,” then do what Mr Obama did: temporize. Say the question is “Above my pay grade” or that your views on the matter are “evolving.”
And then shut up. Reportorial exchanges are not intellectual debates. They are not there to try and understand the delicacies of your position. Be not afraid of saying, “I’m not going to talk about that.” Always keep firmly in mind the words of Mark Twain “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”