The Q-and-A session during beauty pageants often is a fraught situation.
Contestants are given only about 30 seconds on live television to answer questions about how to stop terrorism or whether America has an immigration problem. In other words, it’s a segment primed to go viral (see: Miss Teen South Carolina’s infamous response in 2007), as any good TV producer would hope.
As a result, it’s rare to see anyone answer a question directly. Contestants often spout off media-trained, middle-of-the-road answers that ensure no one will be offended. So it was very unusual Sunday night when the new Miss USA — Miss D.C. Kara McCullough, marking the second year in a row that District of Columbia won the pageant — gave a very direct answer about health care, which in turn sparked a debate on social media.
Before Miss D.C. stepped forward, the questions to the Top 5 were at typical degrees of difficulty: “How would you like the global community to view the United States?” (Miss Minnesota: The U.S. should be viewed as accepting and empowering.) “Which specific issue regarding women’s rights is most important to you?” (Miss Illinois: Women should be able to speak honestly about their experiences at work without retaliation.) “What action would you take as Miss USA to help (suicidal) teenagers?” (Miss South Carolina: Teenagers need to make sure their voices are heard, with counseling or other resources.)
Then Miss D.C. stepped up to answer a question about the most currently contentious subject in the country: “Do you think affordable health care for all U.S. citizens is a right or a privilege, and why?”
McCullough, a 25-year-old scientist who works at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, tied in her own experience to her answer. “I’m definitely going to say it’s a privilege,” she said. “As a government employee, I am granted health care. And I see firsthand that for one to have health care, you need to have jobs. So therefore, we need to continue to cultivate this environment that we’re given the opportunities to have health care as well as jobs to all the American citizens worldwide.”
Reaction on Twitter was swift — quite a few people were horrified (“Miss DC just lost me with that answer …. Affordable health care is a privilege? Girl bye”; “Miss DC was my fav but … not after that answer”). Others applauded her (“Respect for Miss DC saying that health care is a privilege and not a right”). Some went into broad discussion (“The thing about Miss DC is she’s correct — health care IS still a privilege, not a right. It’s just that that’s what’s wrong with our system”).
By the time Miss New Jersey answered the fifth and final question about whether social media is a positive or negative influence in our culture (“With great power comes great responsibility,” she said), it was clear who had the most memorable answer of the night.
Later, McCullough also stirred up a similar debate online for her answer on feminism (“As a woman scientist in the government, I’d like to lately transpose the word feminism to equalism”). But as it turns out, a possible controversy doesn’t necessarily matter to the judges — at the end of the night, she was named the winner.