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Poise, smarts trump politics

Last week, female college students were in the news in Missouri and Nevada.

In Missouri, the married House speaker and first-year college student intern Katie Graham at the Missouri Legislature were revealed by the Kansas City Star to have been engaged in sexual texting with each other. He resigned, she declined to discuss it except in prepared statements.

In Nevada, 19-year-old Ivy Ziedrich spoke an arrow of a sentence to presidential candidate Jeb Bush that resonated across the nation. Their exchange:

Ivy Ziedrich: “I’m Ivy Ziedrich and I’m with the Democrats on the University of Nevada campus, and what I wanted to talk to you about was you stated that ISIS was created because we don’t have enough presence pulling out of the Middle East. However, ISIS was created — the threat of ISIS was created by the Iraqi Coalition Authority, which ousted the entire government of Iraq. It was when 30,000 individuals who were part of the Iraqi military were forced out. They had no employment, no income, and they were left with access to weapons. Your brother created ISIS.”

Jeb Bush: “Is that a question?”

Ziedrich: “You don’t need to be pedantic to me, sir. You can just — ”

Bush: “Pedantic? Wow.”

Ziedrich: “Why are you saying that ISIS was created by us not having a presence in the Middle East when it’s pointless wars where we send young American men to die for the idea of American exceptionalism? Why are you spouting nationalist rhetoric to get us involved in more wars?”

Bush: “We respectfully disagree. We have a disagreement. When we left Iraq, security had been arranged, al-Qaida had been taken out. There was a fragile system that could have been brought up to eliminate the sectarian violence. And we had an agreement that the president could have signed that would have kept 10,000 troops, less than we have in Korea, could have created the stability that would have allowed for Iraq to progress. The result was the opposite occurred. Immediately, that void was filled. Look, you can rewrite history all you want. But the simple fact is that we are in a much more unstable place because America pulled back. Thank you.”

It was a fascinating exchange. What struck me was how much more ready for her moment Ziedrich was than are reporters in presidential campaign debates. Leading U.S. journalists could learn from her. She was prepared and asked a thoughtful, detailed question and didn’t back down when she was challenged by the candidate.

Compare her inquiry with some of the puffy questions asked by Jim Lehrer in one of the 2012 presidential campaign debates:

“What are the major differences between the two of you about how you would go about creating new jobs? … Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security? … Do you believe there’s a fundamental difference between the two of you as to how you view the mission of the federal government?”

Or look at the 2008 Democratic primaries debate held in Las Vegas on Nov. 15, 2007, on CNN, when University of Nevada, Las Vegas student Maria Parra Sandova wanted to ask a question about nuclear waste storage (she had researched a policy memo on Yucca Mountain) and instead was directed by the network to ask Hillary Clinton, “Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?”

Setting aside Bush’s condescending, anti-­intellectual “Pedantic? Wow,” Ziedrich’s question forced the candidate to engage on an issue that he would have preferred to gloss over, no small feat in this day of slickness in campaign dialogues.

No one has to agree with Ziedrich to admire her intellect and aplomb. Bush appeared off balance and did a little rewriting of history himself. Ziedrich did Nevada — and women in college — proud.

Dennis Myers is a veteran Nevada journalist.

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