“Do you find yourself tuning in to the presidential debates and wishing you could join the candidates on stage and answer the questions for them? Did you feel you were going to kick in your TV screen several times during the GOP debate in Michigan? Me, too. Me, too.

Why can’t conservatives just say what they really think? Why waffle or pussyfoot in the face of questioning by polite but overwhelmingly unsympathetic questioners? It does nobody any good, especially in the early stages of a campaign, when the candidates are trying to appeal to their bases.

Perhaps the most painful missed opportunity came in response to a question about oil (a subject that fairly oozed throughout the proceedings) and profits. It came from CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood, who asked: “Senator McCain, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips, this past year, earned a combined $72 billion in profits. Is that too much? Should the oil industry pay higher taxes, or should it be required to use some of those profits to help solve our energy problems?”

While McCain at least said HE wouldn’t PUNISH the oil companies via higher taxes, and, so, technically, got the answer right, he was tepid. McCain “would hope that they would use those profits to further the cause of alternate energy, nuclear power, OR? [of] a lot of other ways that we have to employ in order to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil.” That’s a C minus answer.

He could have said something better. Allow me to fulfill my Walterine Mitty fantasy and answer the question: 

Is that too much? Not for shareholders, John, and since these are widely-held companies, the shareholders number in the millions. So these profits for American companies are great news, aren’t they, John? Surely you aren’t implying that there should be a cap on how well an American corporation can do? I hope you aren’t saying this because that would be an attack on the very roots of the capitalist system, the system that had done so much to eliminate poverty and improve the lives of millions upon millions.

I am aware that some people want to haul successful oil companies TO [on] Capitol Hill and hold hearings-just because these companies make a profit, a profit that is passed on to shareholders. I’m not one of these people. I do not want to penalize companies for being profitable. And who would get these taxes, John? You seem to want them to go to developing alternative fuels. I’m in favor of developing alternative fuels.

But let me tell you, John, when it comes to alternative fuels, I don’t need to stand here and sound sanctimonious. You can bet your bottom dollar that, when alternative fuels are promising, these giant oil companies will be in the vanguard of investing in them. They don’t want to lose their market. Exxon, for example, already has invested heavily in ethanol but the company has said that other forms of alternative fuels won’t be viable without government subsidies (which skewer the market and allow us to waste time on unpromising fuels because subsidies make research “free”) anytime soon. Exxon, which is drilling off the coast of Russia for new oil, spends around $600 million in on research and development every year. Bravo! Let’s hear IT [if] for the American system! Did I answer your question, John?

Another missed opportunity came when “Hardball’s” Chris Matthews asked a question that could have afforded a golden opportunity to pinpoint a major difference between the two political parties. “Mayor Giuliani,” Matthews said, “the private equity firms are making billions of dollars. I guess it’s a mystery to me — and you can explain it, as a New Yorker — where these billions of dollars come from; where were they before; and is there any downside to this amazing bonanza in the hedge fund and the private equity firms?”

“I mean, the free market is our — one of our greatest assets,” Giuliani replied, launching into a good enough answer-as far as it went. But he didn’t tackle Matthews’ big question: Where does money come from? I think Mr. Matthews really wanted to know. May I answer?

“Well, Chris [I guess I have to employ the annoying tactic of being on a first-name basis with everybody, now that I have joined the debates], that’s an important question: Where does money come from? Thank you for asking it. How you answer that question determines everything you believe about the economy. Liberals tend to believe that there is a pot of money-it’s static, and what you have to do is make sure it’s divided up properly.

“On the other hand, entrepreneurs know that money isn’t static-you can make new money, money that didn’t exist before, by coming up with a new idea, selling a new product, basically doing what entrepreneurs do. We don’t want to fetter these people, the people who create money, because we want our society to have more money flowing about, for investment, physical improvements, and meeting our needs. This is where money comes from, Chris, our entrepreneurial spirit. Did I answer your question?”

The GOP candidates can’t rely on sympathetic think tanks to make the points they won’t. To borrow from Nancy Reagan: Just Say It!