Miller's silence on background makes issues difficult to discuss

Posted: Friday, October 15, 2010

Joe Miller called a press conference Monday for the curious purpose of telling members of the media he would not be talking to them, at least about a great many things.

"We've drawn a line in the sand," he said about his campaign, according to the Associated Press. "You can ask me about background, you can ask me about personal issues, I'm not going to answer them. I'm not. This is about the issues. ... This is about moving this state forward, and that's our commitment."

The problem with that statement is, of course, when it comes to Miller the candidate, his background is intertwined with the issues he wants to address.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner is reporting former Fairbanks Mayor Jim Whitaker said Miller was nearly fired from his position as an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough for violating an ethics policy. True? False? It's hard to say, though Whitaker seems a credible source with little incentive to lie. Too bad no media members can ask Miller to provide his take on what would clearly seem to be "background" hidden behind his line in the sand.

He's acknowledged his family received Medicaid and his wife received unemployment benefits. In and of themselves, neither of those things should matter in a campaign for federal office. However, on his campaign website, he criticizes Sen. Lisa Murkowski for her votes in favor of increasing federal spending on those programs. Is his criticism a change of heart? An acknowledgment of a past mistake? Hypocrisy? It's unclear, and now he won't burn off the fog with answers.

Miller also owned farmland in Kansas in the 1990s, and received federal subsidies for doing so. Again, for better or worse, those government payments are a way of life in American agribusiness. In 2004, 38 percent of American farms received some kind of subsidy, according to the USDA. What they aren't part of, however, is the Constitution, at least not expressly. Try as you might, you won't find a farm subsidy clause in the United States' foundational legal document. Now, is candidate Miller upset at himself for receiving those payments? Is he acknowledging the Constitution gives the federal government implied powers, in seeming contradiction to his expressed interpretation of the 10th amendment? A flip-flop? We don't know, and now we can't ask him.

Miller's website also proudly points out his background as a decorated Gulf War veteran. Normally, he would have every right to take pride in his honorable service, and it would certainly be a tremendous qualification for public office. However, if the past is truly off limits, then the nice things must be as well. Or is it, as we suspect, only the negative or questionable things about Miller's past that are off limits? Would it be OK to inquire about his degrees from West Point and Yale - a pair of elite academic institutions also mentioned on his Web page - but not kosher to pursue his opinions on the federal government dollars that went to pay for both of those diplomas? At this point, Miller's ground rules seem more akin to those used in 43-Man Squamish, not at Wrigley Field.

Of course, no member of the media can actually make any political candidate, or anyone else for that matter, answer anything. And Miller can't do anything to stop the press from asking. His press conference, however, was more. It was a suggestion Miller the candidate is above answering questions about Miller the man. Certainly, not every personal detail about Miller and his family should be sold in the marketplace of ideas. But when Miller the man did things Miller the candidate would seem to abhor, those contradictions need clarification. It's too bad, for the sake of both democracy and Miller, the man who could most easily add transparency and context will now not do so.

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