Tuesday, January 08, 2008


By William Fisher

I have watched my last presidential debate.

I am sick to death of well-coiffed cable TV news anchors asking vapid questions designed to generate heat, not light. I am sick to death of presidential wannabees filibustering questions they choose to avoid by delivering slogans, not answers.

And I am sick to death of the faux choice presented to voters: Change versus Experience. Could someone out there please tell me exactly what that’s supposed to mean?

True, there were some questions – and a bunch of soundbite answers -- about a few of the great issues that will face the next president: Like energy policy, health care, free trade, and the Iraq “surge.”

But these meticulously choreographed-for-TV tableaus should be remembered for what wasn’t covered at all.

Here, in no particular rank order, are a baker’s dozen questions the moderators managed to ignore:

1. What steps will you take to restore constitutional checks and balances between the three co-equal branches of our government?

2. Do you think these three branches are actually co-equal? Or do you believe in the “unitary executive” theory that gives the president far more sweeping powers? For example, do you believe the president should be allowed to use “signing statements” to nullify parts of laws passed by congress? Do you think the Office of the Vice President is part of the Executive Branch of government?

3. Do you agree with President Bush that Guantanamo Bay should be closed? What would you do with the people imprisoned there? Do you think Combat Status Review Tribunals and Military Commissions offer detainees the chance of a fair hearing? What about habeas corpus?

4. The Bush Administration has run one of the most secretive governments in American history. What steps will you take to restore more transparency to the Executive Branch?

5. How would you remove partisan politics from the Department of Justice? And make other federal agencies more efficient?

6. Do you think waterboarding is torture? And are there circumstances under which it should be allowed?

7. The United States has diplomatic relations with – and provides huge amounts of aid to – some of the world’s most repressive governments. Do you think it’s time to rethink our Cuba policy?

8. Do you think some presidential action is needed to reach out more effectively to the American Muslim community, to keep its members from becoming radicalized into home-grown terrorists?

9. Do you think the US should press India, Israel and Pakistan to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? What further steps would you take to ensure the security of nuclear stockpiles?

10. What would you do to accelerate an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians for the establishment of two separate states? Would you press Israel to reexamine its policies regarding West Bank settlements?

11. China and India represent a third of the world’s population – and an ever-increasing amount of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions? What incentives can you offer these countries to cap these emissions according to a mandatory timetable, absent a pledge from the US to do likewise?

12. Do you think US national security is enhanced or injured by our current no-talk policies toward Iran and Syria?

13. What steps would you take to restore respect for the US in the world community?

There are no easy answers to any of these questions. Which is precisely why they should have been asked. The candidates’ answers would speak volumes about how each of them would approach the Presidency.

Forget Experience versus Change. That’s a construct unworthy of serious journalists. It is bumper-sticker lingo from campaign managers. Of course Experience is invaluable; the more you have, the better the chances your new administration will craft the most promising options. If that happens, Change might just take care of itself.