There are questions that are questions, and questions that are trapped. Questions that shouldn't be asked, and if ask shouldn't be answered because they're unanswerable without stepping into the trap of the person asking the question. “Do you still beat your wife?” is one example. But there are other loaded questions that are more popular than ever in our post-9/11 world, and have become more popular rhetorical weapons, usually wielded by conservatives to cudgel liberals or progressives into a corner they can't escape from with complex , polysyllabic answers.

In fact, in most cases the person asking question follows up by screaming “Yes or no!” as the other person tries to stammer out an answer. Thus leaving them two bad choices; an answer that will get them labeled a hypocrite, or an answer that will get them labeled a liar.

So, I kind of feel sorry that Nancy Pelosi faced the latest version of the post 9/11 “Do you still beat your wife?” question when she appeared on Fox News this weekend, to be asked “Do you pray for our troops?”

WALLACE: You said the other day that you were praying for President Bush…


WALLACE: … to change his mind about vetoing SCHIP. Do you pray for our soldiers to win in Iraq?

PELOSI: Of course I do.

WALLACE: To win?

PELOSI: Of course I do. Of course. What a question.

What a question, indeed, but she answered it. And she kept answering it


WALLACE: When you pray for President Bush, what do you pray for?

PELOSI: I pray that – well, at the same as I pray for him, I pray for America's children and that there can be some compatibility in their thinking. But I pray for his health, his well being. I pray that he makes the right decisions for the American people.

But when I…

WALLACE: Do you ever pray for him to change his policies?

PELOSI: All the time. But let me draw a line. When I was growing up in politics, we were always told that we shouldn't pray for a political outcome, that we just pray that God's will would be done.

We pray for the children. We pray for poor people. And we pray for people who need help. And we always, always, always pray for our men and women in uniform who make our freedom to pray possible.

I remember when the first war in Iraq broke out. I was in college at the time and immediately joined the protests on the UGA campus. I stood as counter protesters marched by, and spoke at an MLK Day ceremony at the site of the peace camp that sprang up on UGAs north campus. And the question then was pretty much the same question remixed for Nancy Pelosi on Fox.

“Do you support the troops?”

You can't say “no.” And if you say “yes” but don't support the war then you're a liar and/or a hypocrite, because there's only one way to “support the troops” and that's to support the war or shut up. Do anything else — like question the mission or demand that our troops be brought home, and out of harms way — and (ironically enough) you're not supporting the troops.

Because there's only one way to support the troops. And if you pray for them, there's only one “right” thing to pray for.

For them “to win.” But what does “winning” in Iraq even look like at this point? Why step into his frame and thus into his crosshairs by saying on the one hand that you do pray for them to “win”? There are any number of answers that Pelosi could have given — Nacho rightly suggests “The War Prayer” by Mark Twain. But the problem is that those answers are answers you can't give in America today. At least, not if you're a politician who wants to stay in office and, thus, in power.


“God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant's prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”

And if you're going to answer the question, and give the “right” answer, then as Twain points out you have to accept all of that answer and all that it implies.

Why not answer that question with a question? “Do you pray for our soldiers, Chris? What do you pray for? If we're praying for different things, which of us is praying for the wrong thing?

The point of the question is that there is a wrong thing to pray for. For example, praying that our soldiers come home safe and come home soon might be the “wrong” thing to pray for, because it doesn't sound like praying for a “win.”

The other point of the question is that there's only the one to the unasked question that's implied. At least, one answer any politician who wants to stay in office and stay in power is going to give.

Because to ask “Do you pray for our soldiers?” is to ask “Do you pray?”

And no politician — Democrat or Republican — is going to say or even imply that she or he does not pray.

Crossposted from The Republic of T.



1 Comment

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