Huffpost Homepage

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jon Raymond Headshot

Knowing What You Don't Know

Posted: Updated:

Tom Brokaw asked the candidates their last town hall debate question from Peggy in Amherst, New Hampshire "What don't you know and how will you learn it?" This reminded me of a famous Donald Rumsfeld quote that is now considered poetry according to

The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don't know
We don't know.

--Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

I've always liked this quote, despite my opinion of Rumsfeld as something of an antichrist. Ironically, it makes a lot of sense. You can't know what you don't know. You can't know about things you have yet to discover. You can't know what the future holds, though you might conjecture on it, and if you're psychic you might venture a guess. The question is a loaded one. It should have been, "What do you feel unknowledgeable about?"

Let's see. The future?

Would you answer that question in, say, a job interview? It's one of those typical job interview gotcha questions (along with, "What have you read lately?"). But in job interviews it's usually more like, "Tell us about one of your failures." or "Tell us about your weaknesses." Answer those and you lost the job. Your answer has to be, "I haven't had any real failures. I always succeed. I don't have any weaknesses in my job."

McCain and Obama know how to handle the tough job interview questions. They basically said they don't know what they'll have to face in the future, but they'll deal with it.

Obama went on to talk about the things he does know.

I know that I wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for the fact that this country gave me opportunity. I came from very modest means.... And the question in this election is: are we going to pass on that same American dream to the next generation?

Kind of a positive twist on the question, don't you think? The known knowns?

McCain was more of a Rumsfeld type, getting down to the known unknowns,  The "dark times" ahead?:

I know what it's like in dark times. I know what it's like to have to fight to keep one's hope going through difficult times. I know what it's like to rely on others for support and courage and love in tough times.

I know what it's like to have your comrades reach out to you and your neighbors and your fellow citizens and pick you up and put you back in the fight....

As if we didn't know that.