Tomorrow night may be the last debate in the Democratic primary race. This will be the twentieth debate so far, which has to be some kind of record. But contrary to the jaded inside-the-Beltway crowd, I think more is better when it comes to debates.
Because watching a televised debate is really the only chance most voters have to see the candidates answer questions and have to think on their feet in a live format. Which means that the more debates that happen, the more people get to see the candidates. And that is indeed a good thing, because it informs the electorate about the candidates to a certain degree.
The biggest problem with the debates is the inane questions they usually get. The moderators are all part of the mainstream media, and they reflect this by asking endless questions about the parsing of a word or two, or silly campaign charges the candidates have been swatting each other with. Even when the public is invited to submit questions, they are screened by the same moderators to weed out any impertinence on the part of the electorate.
I would be willing to bet I'm not alone when I say there are a few questions I'd like to ask the candidates -- questions I haven't heard asked yet. Of course, I have my own biases as to what to ask and what not to ask, so I invite everyone to pose their own questions in response as well.
[I have a few specific questions for each candidate, and then a list of questions I'd like to ask both candidates.]
Senator Clinton, in the past you have said you were against a constitutional amendment to outlaw burning the American flag, but then you co-sponsored a bill to do exactly that. So where exactly do you stand on the issue? Do you support making flag-burning illegal? Was your past support a mistake? Or were you just positioning yourself to run for president by championing this issue?
Senator Obama, you have called for bold leadership in your campaign, but as a state senator you voted "present" rather than for or against a number of bills dealing with some very contentious issues, such as abortion laws and gun control laws. Do you regret not standing up and leading on these issues? Were your past "present" votes a mistake? Were you just using the option of "present" to give yourself political cover, rather than voting the way you felt was right?
Senator Clinton, you have said that you have "35 years" of experience. Part of that experience was being First Lady for eight years. When your husband signed NAFTA, was that part of the "experience" that you are proud of? Why did you praise your husband for the achievement of passing NAFTA if you are now opposed to it?
Senator Obama, you have said we need a new kind of politics to get beyond the old debates in Washington. But unless the Democrats pick up something like ten seats in the Senate, the Republicans will still be able to halt important legislation with cloture votes. If faced with such a deadlock on an important bill you support, exactly how would you resolve it?
Senators Clinton and Obama, in campaign speeches you have both been using some version of the line: "Warren Buffett pays a lower rate in taxes than his secretary does." But neither one of you, to the best of my knowledge, has offered a viable solution to this problem. Because Mr. Buffett makes most of his money trading on Wall Street, and his secretary earns an income, their tax rates are going to be different -- which neither of you has addressed. So my question to both of you is: do you support taxing capital gains at the same rate as income, yes or no? If you answer "no," please explain why Mr. Buffett's secretary should pay a higher rate in taxes than her boss.
Senators Clinton and Obama, do you support state legalization of marijuana for medical purposes only? If you do support this concept, would you, as president, change marijuana from being a Schedule I Dangerous Controlled Substance to Schedule II? Schedule I drugs are those that have no medical use whatsoever -- such as LSD and PCP. Schedule II covers dangerous drugs which are tightly controlled, but which may be prescribed by a physician legally -- such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and morphine. So, would you support moving marijuana to Schedule II to stop federal raids on sick people, and to allow doctors to legally prescribe marijuana?
Senators Clinton and Obama, no matter which of you gets your party's nomination, it appears almost certain that for only the third time in American history, we will be electing someone straight from the United States Senate to the White House. But it doesn't seem as though either one of you has used the bully pulpit of the Senate to champion any of your key issues during your campaign. Please name one issue you've given a speech on in the Senate in the past six months that you feel strongly about. And please give an example of one Senate vote you missed, due to the campaign, that you now regret not being present for.
Senators Clinton and Obama, if you become the Democratic nominee, one of the things the Republican candidate is going to attack you on will be "retreating" in Iraq, being in favor of "surrendering to Al Qaeda," and "losing the war on terror." This is not exactly a big secret, it is what Republicans have been saying for years. So how would you answer such "Defeatocrat" charges?
Senators Clinton and Obama, as president would you restrict the CIA and all other government agencies to only using interrogation techniques described in the Army Field Manual? Or would you continue the Bush policies on torture?
Senators Clinton and Obama, as president would you continue the Bush administration's policies on warrantless wiretapping? Do you support giving telecommunications companies amnesty for past illegal activities they may have committed in their support of Bush's wiretapping policies?
Senators Clinton and Obama, if you become president, what will you do to expose the actions of the Bush administration? You may have the only chance to bring to light a lot of things the Bush folks have been doing, and if you don't do so, history will be full of unanswered questions about his time in office. Will you pledge to deeply investigate wrongdoing by your predecessor, or will you let sleeping dogs lie, and concentrate on the future?
Senators Clinton and Obama, I'd like you to picture your first day in the Oval Office. After measuring the place for drapes, what will be your first three actions as president? What are the first three executive orders you will issue on that historic day? In other words, what are your top three priorities for your presidency that can be accomplished by your signature alone?
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com