How to Answer Twenty Tough Questions

1.      Do you favor abortion on demand?

Say . . .

I believe people need to make their own important life decisions for themselves and their families. These include decisions about whether and when to become a parent. To make these decisions responsibly, individuals need access to medically accurate information, birth control, and, when necessary, abortion. All Americans should have the freedom and the opportunity to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

Note . . .

Anyone who asks the question in such a biased manner is not going to be persuaded by your answer. Make it short and move on. For a longer answer and explanation, see Reproductive Health.

2.      Do you favor gay marriage?

Say . . .

If America stands for anything, it’s equal opportunity for all. If you have two children or grandchildren, and one is straight and the other gay, you still love them equally. You know the government should treat them fairly and equally. Nobody in our families or our communities should be denied the happiness that comes with being married just because they’re gay. 

Note . . .

The equal opportunity frame works best. For a longer answer and explanation, see LGBT Rights.

3.      Do you favor school vouchers?

Say . . .

We all want what’s best for our own children. If parents decide private school is best for their child, I support their right to make that decision. But the parents should pay for it, taxpayers should not. We need to focus our scarce tax dollars on the goal of building top-quality public schools so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed, achieve, and live the American Dream. 

Note . . .

About 70 percent of Americans oppose vouchers. Shift the debate away from failing schools and toward the importance of providing opportunity for all.

4.      Aren’t public employees like teachers, firefighters and police getting too much health and pension benefits that taxpayers just can’t afford?

Say . . .

The state/city/county should pay fair wages and benefits—nothing more, nothing less. I do not believe that the teachers, police officers and firefighters in our community are overpaid for the jobs they do. But it is clear that we’ve got no money to waste and I promise you I will pinch every penny I can. One way to do that is to crack down on sweetheart contracts and outright subsidies paid to companies that do outsourced work for our state/city/county. Let’s demand accountability from the contractors, insist on contract terms that are fair, open and honest, and—like public employees—pay those companies at a rate that is fair—nothing more, nothing less. 

Note . . .

Polls show that die-hard conservatives think public employees are overpaid but persuadable voters generally don’t feel that way. Refer to teachers and other public employees “in our community” because voters are much more supportive of public employees they know, especially schoolteachers, than faceless bureaucrats. Then move the discussion to the related issue of overpaid government contractors. This works best if you can show an example of corporations being overpaid in your jurisdiction—it shouldn’t be hard to find one.

5.      Do you favor gun control?

Say . . .

I support the Second Amendment. Hunting and shooting are part of our national heritage. But like most Americans, I also support reasonable laws that help keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill. For example, it’s just common sense that we should close the gun show loophole in the current background check system to cover all gun sales, not just sales by gun dealers. [And we should stop selling military-style assault rifles and extra-large capacity ammunition magazines.] We need to do what we can to protect our public safety. 

Note . . .

Persuadable voters support the Second Amendment. At the same time, about 80 percent support closing the gun show loophole and requiring background checks for all gun purchases. By all means, appeal to “common sense.”

6.      Do you favor prayer in schools?

Say . . .

I strongly support freedom of religion. Children can voluntarily pray in schools now, and I’m all for that, of course. But government-sanctioned prayer was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court 60 years ago. It violates our freedom of religion for school boards, public schools or teachers to tell children how or when to pray. 

Note . . .

People favor prayer in schools. But they also favor upholding our basic constitutional rights.

7.      Do you favor the teaching of intelligent design in public schools?

Say . . .

The founders of our nation strongly supported freedom of religion. After all, many of their families came here to escape governments that imposed religion upon their citizens. So freedom of religion is the very heart of America. Virtually all scientists say that intelligent design is not science, it is religion. That’s why children should learn about it in church, not in public school science classes.

Note . . .

Intelligent design is a tough issue because half of Americans believe in some form of creationism, so you’ve got to lean heavily on their values—religious people value freedom of religion.

8.      Do you favor the display of the Ten Commandments in government buildings?

Say . . .

The Ten Commandments are a moral inspiration. I support their display on private property. But as you know, the first four Commandments are clearly religious. That’s why our courts have repeatedly ruled, unless it’s just secular art, that it violates our First Amendment freedom of religion to display the Ten Commandments on government property. I agree.

Note . . .

Again, lean on our constitutional right to religious freedom. 

9.      Shouldn’t we lock up repeat criminals and throw away the key?

Say . . .

We certainly should lock up repeat violent offenders for a long time. But what about petty criminals or juveniles? Our society is safer if we prevent them from becoming violent career criminals and the way to do that is keep them out of the general prison population. For example, studies show we lower the rate of repeat crimes if we send nonviolent drug offenders to facilities that treat their addictions instead of putting them in prison. Let’s focus on what works to make our communities safer.

Note . . .

Focus on public safety, not the criminal.

10.  Do you favor the death penalty?

Say . . .

For cold-blooded murder, I would lock ‘em up and throw away the key. I have two concerns about the death penalty. First, there is not an ounce of evidence that it deters crime and makes us any safer, and I want to focus the time and energy of the police, prosecutors and courts on measures that actually reduce crime. Second, there are many people who have been sentenced to death, and at least some who have been executed, who were later proven innocent. That’s an awful injustice, and it also pretty well guarantees that the real murderer is never caught and never punished. 

Note . . .

As much as possible, focus on public safety instead of injustice.

11.  Won’t making emergency contraceptives more available increase promiscuity?

Say . . .

I’m for promoting public health. Right now, emergency contraceptives—a form of birth control—are widely available at drug stores without a prescription. There is absolutely no medical evidence that it increases promiscuity or causes any health problem. We need to provide individuals the freedom and opportunity to make important life decisions for themselves.

Note . . .

Make sure you understand that “Plan B” emergency contraception is birth control—it does not trigger abortion. It was approved for over-the-counter sale by President George W. Bush. The drug that causes a medication abortion, mifepristone, is a completely different drug.

12.  Do you think that “corporations are people”?

Say . . .

Corporations are not people. They are contracts with the state. Corporations are necessary for doing business and our laws should enable people to run businesses successfully. But corporations don’t deserve rights that are fundamental to people—like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly. Those rights belong to you and me. 

Note . . .

It was Mitt Romney who said, “Corporations are people, my friends.” The idea that corporations have the right to freedom of speech is central to the Citizens United ruling that has resulted in uncontrolled Super PAC spending in elections.

13.  Doesn’t environmental regulation lead to higher energy prices?

Say . . .

None of us likes it when prices rise. Sometimes new rules increase prices, sometimes they lower prices. But I’d ask your question another way. Do rules that protect the environment provide more benefit than cost? Environmental rules protect something that we all own together—our air, water, forests, and parks—from abuse by just a few people. When they pollute for profit it is at our joint expense.America needs individuals and companies to engage in many economic activities that impact our environment. But we need fair and transparent rules to make sure the environmental costs aren’t dumped on all of us.

Note . . .

Make the environment real to listeners.

14.  Do you believe in global warming and what would you do about it?

Say . . .

We can’t ignore the increasingly severe weather—it’s already causing tens of billions in damage and it’s only getting worse. We owe it to our children to protect them and their futures, and that means addressing climate change before it becomes irreversible. We need to apply commonsense strategies now. We know how to implement clean energy solutions, and we know that reducing fossil fuel dependence will make America stronger and our kids safer. It’s time to step up and get it done—our children are counting on us.

Note . . .

Progressives say “climate change” rather than “global warming.” It polls a little better and it more accurately describes the impact of excessive greenhouse gases.

15.  Shouldn’t we require drug tests for welfare recipients?

Say . . .

We certainly should discourage people from using illegal drugs, but that plan has serious problems. First, when Florida did this they found that the drug testing costs a lot more than the savings from cutting people off assistance. In our state, we don’t have extra funds to waste. Second, also in Florida, implementation was blocked after a few months by the federal courts. Again, we shouldn’t waste time and money on useless litigation. Finally, I’m worried where drug testing would go. Florida followed up by imposing drug tests of government employees. What’s next? Drug testing for unemployment benefits? To get a business license? To get a driver’s license? Everyone in America deserves a measure of privacy, and I think we should respect that.

Note . . .

Polls show that voters support drug testing for public assistance. As of 2012, right wingers have introduced such legislation in 36 states and passed it in five of them. It’s a tough issue.

16.  Wouldn’t it hurt small businesses and cost jobs if we increased the minimum wage?

Say . . .

We absolutely must support our small businesses. At the same time, we need to make sure America really is a land of opportunity. With today’s minimum wage, a parent working full-time doesn’t even earn enough to make ends meet. Raising the minimum wage puts money in the pockets of people who will spend it, immediately generating business for the local economy. So if we do it right, raising the minimum wage is a win-win, and I support it.

Note . . .

In fact, about three-fourths of voters support raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.

17.  Why are you running for office?

Say . . .

The economy is terrible, people are hurting, and our state/city/county is not doing enough to solve the real problems. I'm running because we can do better. Our system works when everyone gets a fair shot, everyone gives their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules. My opponent’s policies are not fair; they rig the system to benefit the rich over the rest of us. I will work to ensure that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has the opportunity to live the American Dream.

Note . . .

Everyone who runs for office must be ready to answer this question without hesitation. This is a generic example. Personalize it to your campaign and your community and then memorize it and use it every chance you get.

18.  Are you a tax-and-spend liberal?

Say . . .

I am a pragmatic and common sense progressive. Understand first, unlike the federal government, our state/locality has to balance its budget every single year. I would maintain a balanced budget. Second, my policy is tax fairness. Our tax system is unfair and I would work to identify and cut tax breaks and loopholes that benefit a few at the expense of all the rest of us. Third, my spending priority is to create a local economy that’s built to last. I would work to maintain and improve the quality of life here in [location], not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren.

Note . . .

Don’t get defensive. Smack this softball out of the park.

19.  Are you trying to knock down the free enterprise system?

Say . . .

No. I will pursue equal opportunity for everyone. That requires a system with rules of the road that make economic competition fair and open and honest. I will work to ensure that everybody gets a fair shot, does their fair share, and plays by the same fair rules. My goal is that everyone who works hard and acts responsibly has the opportunity to live the American Dream.

Note . . .

You are not opposed to the market system, you are opposed to economic unfairness. This harsh question gives you another opportunity to repeat your basic economic theme.

20.  Are you a Socialist?

Say . . .

I support freedom, opportunity, and security for all. We call that a Progressive.

Note . . .

If you’re in a crowd, smile. This ideologue just did you a favor.

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