Lawmakers often talk about how they need to make the "tough political choices." Are you in the ninth year of a costly war that seems to going nowhere? You have a choice: continue on the path you're on or cut bait. Got big structural deficits looming on the landscape? You have some choices! Cut those entitlements maybe? Or scrap your farm subsidies? (Or pull out of that costly war?) That's just a taste of the "tough choices." The problem is, by deigning to choose, you might cost yourself your well-feathered seat or, as in the case of Carly Fiorina, the chance to claim one for yourself.
This past Sunday, Fox News's Chris Wallace tried for what seems like an hour to engage Fiorina -- currently in a tight race with Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) -- on the topic of spending cuts. With a glazed-over look that I've come to know as her trademark, Fiorina parried the efforts by using a phrase that I've come to recognize as the go-to term for anytime a politician wants to conflate activity with achievement, and suggest that the toughest part about making a choice is to boldly prepare for the choice-making:
WALLACE: But forgive me, Miss Fiorina, where are you going to cut entitlements? What benefits are you going to cut? What eligibility are you doing..
FIORINA: Chris, I have to say, with all due respect, you're asking a typical political question.[...]
WALLACE: It may be a typical political question but that's where the money is. The money is in Medicare and Social Security. We have baby-boomers coming. There will be a huge explosion of entitlement explosion and you call it a political question when I ask you to name one single entitlement you are willing to cut.
FIORINA: Chris, I believe to deal with entitlement reform, which we must deal with, we ought to put every possible solution on the table, except we should be very clear we are not going to cut benefits to those nearing retirement or those nearing retirement or those in retirement.[...]
WALLACE: I'm going to try one last time, and if you don't want to answer it, Miss Fiorina, you don't have to.
FIORINA: It's not a question of not wanting to answer it!
WALLACE: Let me ask the question, if I may, please. You're not willing to put forward a single benefit - I'm not talking about the people 60 or let alone 65, or 70. I'm talking about people under 55. You're not willing to say there is a single benefit eligibility for Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security that you are willing to say "Yeah, I would cut that?"
FIORINA: What I think we need to do to engage the American people in a conversation about entitlement reform is to have a bipartisan group of people who come together and put every solution on the table, every alternative on the table. Then we ought to engage in a long conversation with the American people so they understand the choices.
See! We're putting "all the options on the table!" This is a fancy way of giving yourself the leeway to do what you intend to do anyway: kick the can down the road. Surely it's a meritorious thing that everyone at least took one long, loving look at the can before punting it off into the distance.
Wallace deserves props for being largely intolerant of Fiorina's incessant dodging, but here's a pro tip for the future: anytime you have someone talking about putting things on the "table," you need to interrupt right away and say, "Due respect, but I'm not interested in how you're going to set the table. You need to tell me, right now, what you plan to eat."