The Commander in Chief forum, hosted by IAVA and broadcast by MSNBC, promised to be an event in which military veterans would be able to question presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton about veteran’s issues and military affairs.  Instead, it was a canned, staged event in which television host Matt Laurer did most of the talking.  The candidates were lobbed softball questions and gave predictably vague answers in a non-event which presented no new information to the audience and voting public.

The President in waiting

Mrs. Clinton was the first to appear on stage, agreeing with Lauer that there would be no personal attacks on her opponent before moving on.  When asked what the most important quality is in a commander in chief, Hillary didn’t hesitate with her answer for a moment.  “Steadiness,” she said, adding that the President has to make difficult decisions, requiring an individual who listens, processes information, and that temperament and judgement are the key.

As I sat in the audience, I was struck by how different Hillary Clinton comes across in person.  Although I never found her to be very impressive on television, when seen in person she does in fact have a certain poise and grace about her that I never picked up on from seeing her in the media going back to when I was in grade school to today.

Lauer then launched into Clinton’s email scandal and frankly, Mrs. Clinton ran circles around him, explaining some nuances about classified information, classification headers, and how it is possible to talk about certain programs without going into classified details.  Lauer, no doubt unfamiliar with the classification system was left with little rebuttal.

While I was personally disappointed that Clinton was not indicted by the FBI for mishandling classified information, and Lauer’s question as to how we can trust someone who cannot safeguard classified data, it was still pretty amazing to see her tap dance her way out of the question.  Likewise, when the host asked about Clinton’s private server being hacked by foreign powers, Clinton had a rehearsed answer about how there is no proof but that there is proof that official State Department servers have been hacked.  There is a certain amount of mental gymnastics here as the question many veterans have is why should we trust Clinton with classified information.  Cyber-security is a whole other can of worms.

It was nearly nine minutes in to the hour long event (a half hour devoted to each candidate) before an actual veteran got to ask a question.  John Lester who had served as a Naval aviator, asked a further question about Clinton endangering national security by playing fast and loose with classified information, actions that would have any military member stripped of his or her security clearance for at a minimum.

Meanwhile, let me explain some of the behind the scenes stuff going on here.  I was asked to fill out a questionnaire for NBC by a friend who invited me to the event.  The questions asked name, race, gender, age, units I served in, and then what question I would like to ask the candidates.  I had been standing behind Lester in line and saw him get rushed up ahead of everyone.  This was a curated event, with all questions pre-screened and approved by producers if not campaign managers.  I realized at that moment just how canned this entire thing was and knew that there wouldn’t be any tough questions tonight.  I can’t say that I’m surprised though.