Speaking of pointless, content-free online Q&A sessions hosted by the Washington Post, the paper gave the Tea Party Patriots' Ralph Benko a session today. If the Post thought that allowing Benko to take questions from readers without a moderator to steer the conversation or ask follow-up questions would provide Post readers an unfiltered explanation of the Tea Party agenda, that hope was quickly dashed in Benko's very first answer:
Friendly, Md.: What is the Tea Party platform? Less government? Well Mississipi and Louisanna during Hurricane Katrina did not want less government. When the oil rig blew up, everyone wanted government. When the bridge in the midwest city fell down and killed many people, folks called for the government. When people need protection, they call the government. Heck, government protects our rights to bear arms and to vote.
Ralph Benko: Hi Friendly! In no way attempting to avoid your question, but I am powerfully reminded of something that the fellow who I consider the most important political philosopher and human dignity advocate since Thomas Paine once wrote:
[Paine quote omitted for space]
That's from Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, (pp. 122-123), which is often misunderstood as some kind of socialist tract or agitator's cookbook. That's a very shallow reading. Alinsky was all about people participating in their own destiny.
I've written about this fairly extensively elsewhere. Go see http://www.parcbench.com/2009/09/22/the-night-they-raided-alinskys/if it makes you a little bit curious.
Got that? The very first questioner asked Benko a simple question: "What is the Tea Party platform?" Benko began by insisting he wasn't trying to avoid the question, then avoided the question entirely. Through several more questions, Benko never came close to explaining what the Tea Party agenda is. Unless you consider "Washington is way, way out of touch" an "agenda." So another reader called Benko on ducking the first question, and he responded by … again completely failing to spell out a platform or agenda. The closest he came this time: "My own belief is that it is systemic and it is time to clean house and replace a lot of officials with officials with a lot more compassion and humility." Oh. I see.
A reader who made it all the way through Benko's Q&A session would have no idea what he or the Tea Party think the government should do. And I don't mean that he laid out a broad and implausible agenda like "balance the budget by cutting spending" that doesn't really mean much without specifics. He didn't even do that. The word "spend" doesn't appear once. Nor does "deficit" or "budget." Benko said absolutely nothing of substance in the entire session.
It seems clear the Post should start moderating these sessions rather than simply giving political actors free reign to say whatever they want. Or start inviting better participants. Or both.