Tuesday, October 2, 2012
My Best Debate Questions
The first presidential election I voted in was in 1992. That election was notable for a lot of reasons, but one that stuck with me was the introduction of the town hall format in which undecided voters were allowed to ask questions.
I remember being disappointed with the questions that were asked, though going back and re-reading them, I realize I was too harsh.
Aside: It's really interesting to read old debate questions and answers knowing what we know now. For example, in '92 someone asks the candidates when parties will nominate women and/or African-Americans for president. No one gives a date, but they all say they'd like to see it within their lifetime. Perot even names a few possibilities: Colin Powel (who he thinks will be on someone's ticket in '96), General Calvin Waller (who died before the '96 election), Sandra Day O'Connor and Dr. Bernadine Healy Bush throws out Dr. Lou Sullivan. Meanwhile, America's first African-American president was then a new law professor at the University of Chicago working on registering voters for the '92 election.
Anyway, ever since then, I often find myself thinking about what question I'd ask were I given the chance. I often gravitate to questions where all answers are somewhat unappealing, perhaps because that gets one close to the truth, perhaps because it reveals some lie.
Below I've listed the best questions I've been able to come up with. They're in no particular order, except for the last one. Also here's some questions by Ruth Marcus. And others from Politico.
Obama: Are American's better off than we were four years ago, and if not, why shouldn't we change leadership?
Ryan: You have advocated for a government that is small and limited. You have simultaneously criticized the President for not using the goverment to undo damage to the economy that was enormous and widespread. Isn't pursuing a small, weak government tantamount to asking that government be less capable of solving big problems? Do you see any disconnect between what you advocate for and what you criticize the president for?
Romney: In a video you made while at Bain Capital, you said it would often take 8 years to turn a company around, and yet you've criticized the President for not turning the country around in half that time. Why is reviving the nation's economy easier than turning a single business around?
Obama: Why haven't you dealt with the fiscal cliff yet? And what is your plan to do so? Do you believe the threat of it is hurting people, and if so do you regret agreeing to it?
Romney: In your 2008 concession speech you predicted that President Obama would "retreat from the war on terror" and "declare defeat", that a win by Obama "would mean attacks on America, launched from safe havens that would make Afghanistan under the Taliban look like child's play. About this, I have no doubt." Do you believe your prediction was accurate? If not, how much credence should we give your prediction this year that "If Barack Obama is re-elected...the future will not be better than the past."?
Romney: During the primary you bragged that you'd never had a DC address. Why do you think that is a good quality, especially in light of the fact that you ran for the Senate and named someone who's lived in DC for more than a decade as your Vice-President?
Romney: A central claim of your campaign is that, as a successful businessman, you are uniquely qualified to restore the economy, because you understand how the economy works. Looking at American history, which presidents do you think follow that model? Which successful businessmen, once in the White House, became good shepherds of the US Economy?
During the primary, Rick Santorum said of you "The experience Gov. Romney keeps touting out there is not the experience you need to be president. A CEO directs people to do what the CEO thinks is right to do, and those people work in his chain of command. Senators and congressmen don't work for the president. You've got to work with people, not order people." Isn't that a valid point?
Both: The day after Paul Ryan's convention speech, a lot of the discussion was about what the independent fact-checkers were calling untruths within it. No one's hands are clean. For example, Politifact has labelled X of Gov. Romney's statements as Pants on Fire and only Y of President Obama's. And yet, both sides turn to the fact-checkers for defense when the other side is found at fault. Unfortunately, this campaign is becoming a race to the bottom.Would you both be willing, from now until the election, to use the fact-checkers - or some other group you can agree on - as a referee, submitting ads to them for approval before running them, pulling ads found to be egregiously untrue and issuing apologies for statements that are deemed the worst level of falsehoods such as "pants on fire"? Or maybe you could have a standard bet on facts? Perhaps $10,000? Gov. Perry may not have been a gambler, but you know the guy who invested in Solyndra is.
Romney: You've claimed the stimulus didn't work and that what we need are tax cuts to get the economy going, but 36% of the stimulus WAS tax cuts. So if tax cuts are what is needed, then why didn't the stimulus work?
Obama: You came to office promising to change the way Washington worked, with the implication being that you would be a post-partisan president. I think it's safe to say that you've failed in that. Where did you go wrong? How partisan do you predict a 2nd Obama term would be?
Romney: At the convention you said that ""If Barack Obama is re-elected...the future will not be better than the past." Do you think the United States is so weak that it is only one bad president away from an eternal downward path?
Obama: A lot of people are out of work, and have been for a long time. Median income is down. Despite promising to change Washington, it's more partisan than ever. You failed to close Guantanamo, pass cap-and-trade legislation and comprehensive immigration reform. As a result, a majority of Americans say they don't think you've earned a second term. Are Americans wrong to be disappointed in you?
Both: (via Walter Pincus) "If the need arises again to send American forces to fight abroad, would you get authorization from Congress and a special tax to pay for those operations?"
Ryan: After the midterm election, Sen. McConnell said that "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." He didn't say that it was to create jobs. Do you think that Republican efforts to deny Obama a second term undermined their ability to achieve lesser goals like creating new jobs?
Romney: You've been unwilling to make more than 2 years of your tax returns public. You've also avoided telling Americans the specifics of how you would pay for the tax cuts you propose while reducing the deficit. You're a businessman. Would you invest in a business that would only show you last year's financials and would not provide you the details of their business plan?
Romney: Some have characterized the absence of George W. Bush from your nominating convention as a tacit admission that his presidency was a failure. But at the same time, a lot of your advisers served in the Bush administration. So do you think George W. Bush was a successful president or not?
Both: When President's leave office, there is often an ugly pardon process in the final days. In addition, many find it unseemly when President's pardon former political appointees as both of the Bush's did. Would you commit to a promise to never pardon one of your political appointees for crimes committed during your presidency and to no pardons between the Presidential election before you leave office and the day you leave office?
Both: 47% of Americans pay no income tax. Is this a problem and if so, how do we solve it?
Romney: If you were a successful governor of Massachusetts, why is it that only 6 years after leaving office, you aren't likely to win the state in November?
A note before the final question: Let me point out that I believe the following question is very dirty pool. It really is not fair, because it is designed to make Romney look like a racist, and I don't believe he is a racist. Nor do I believe that an answer of "no" makes one a racist. But, if that were his answer, it could be a devastating question. I wouldn't ask it though and I wouldn't respect someone who did.
Romney: Some people have said that your campaign's attack on the welfare waivers the Obama administration issued was a racial dog whistle. This, combined with the behavior of a few bad apples at the RNC who threw peanuts at a reported and the fact that you're polling at 0% among African-Americans creates for some the perception that while Republicans are not racists, the Republican Party is where racists find a home. So I wonder, have you ever voted for a black person and if so, who was it and when?