I didn't watch the debate between Obama and Clinton the other night, but I've heard Obama whining about the "gotcha" nature of the questions. I've got two gut reactions to this.
First, Obama has forfeited all right to complain about a tough press, in my opinion. Obama has been treated for the most part as if he's the second coming of Jack Kennedy and Ronald Reagan combined, the most talented politician to have emerged in America since the founding fathers. He's been running on fluff, talking about hope, working together, changing the world, etc. He does have positions and policies, but these are distributed through his website, they aren't the stuff of speeches or debates.
For the most part, media reports about Obama resemble celebrity gossip. Even the stuff he's getting smacked around on now is gossipy--did you hear what he said? Did you hear what his friend's said? He's risen to where he is mostly on chatter and charm; unfortunately, if chatter lifts you up, it can also drop you. It's especially dangerous for Obama because his resume is so thin. When negative stories hit McCain, McCain has a track record of decades in the senate that he can point to as evidence of who he is and what he does. He's shown a willingness to take stands unpopular with fellow republicans and, on the matter of the war, with pretty much everyone. No one agrees with him on everything, but it's not important, because, agree or not, he's clearly demonstrated that he's someone who puts some thought into his opinions and goes with what he thinks and feels, not with what is most politically convenient. Obama's most famous vote is one he never made--he didn't vote for the war, but since he wasn't in the senate at the time, we'll never know how he would have behaved if he'd actually been put on the spot. And aside from that non-vote... what else? Where are the bills with his name on them? Where are the instances where he took a stand against his own base and voted in a way that showed any political courage at all? If Obama want's to run on a substance free platform, he can't gripe about substance free debate questions.
My second reaction to Obama's complaints, though, are that he's absolutely right. As something of a political junkie, I stay at least vaguely aware of what questions are getting asked in debates, and, for the most part, this entire campaign has been almost entirely information free. The questions, again, have a high school popularity contest feel to them. Candidates for the presidency deserve better questions than, "Do you think people like you?"
My favorite question of all the debates was the one on whether illegal aliens should be given driver's licenses. It's a good question because there isn't a clear cut, easy answer that will make everyone happy. No is a good answer, because, what part of illegal don't you understand? If an illegal alien walks into a DMV and applies for a license, why not slap handcuffs on him instead of taking his picture? But, yes is also a good answer. Illegal aliens are here. They are a part of our economy. And, they're driving. Encouraging them to have driver's licenses deals with a pragmatic reality... they are on the roads anyway, they should at least prove to a beaurocrat somewhere that they know what a stop light means and how to parallel park. Clinton got chewed up by basically answering with both the pros and cons and then not saying what her position was. She was evasive. But, you know what? While it was my favorite question of the debate, it was also one that a presidential candidate really didn't need to have thought about in great detail because the federal government doesn't issue driver's licenses. Still, I liked that she at least showed an awareness of all sides of the argument.
Obama has hinted he's not going to do a debate in North Carolina. I hope he changes his mind. If it will help, I'll offer to moderate. I'll even give my questions in advance:
1. Do you know what the current federal debt is? (Rounding off to the nearest trillion is acceptable.) Do you regard the debt as a problem to be tackled by the next administration, or as one that can safely be left for future generations to deal with? Is a debt free America a realistic goal? If not, what would your target be for the debt load of America, as expressed as a percentage of GDP?
2. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Should this be a guiding principal of American imigration policy? Or is this mearly a quaint 19th century platitude that must give way to a 21rst century policy of giving preference to the energetic, successful, well-educated elites of other countries who come here to drive our high-tech industries? Should the Statue of Liberty's text be replaced with an H-1 visa? And, do you feel our current imigration targets are well calibrated, or should we be allowing more legal imigrants? Less? Should the number be doubled? Halved?
3. Do you know how many countries US armed forces are currently stationed in? How many countries do you perceive as potential military threats to American's on American soil? Do you feel that a military presense in Europe, Asia, South America, the Pacific, the Middle East, etc., has done anything over the last fifteen years to make American's safer? How many nuclear bombs do you feel American must possess in order to maintain an effective deterrent? What is your position of testing these nuclear weapons? What is your position on a military presence in orbit?
4. Do you feel prayer is a legitimate approach to problem solving? You've both (Obama and Clinton) spoke of feeling the guiding presence of the holy spirit in your lives. Would you follow the guidance of that holy spirit in crafting foreign policy? Social policy? Economic policy? Would you feel comfortable appointing a catholic to the supreme court? A jew? A muslim? A scientologist? An atheist?
5. Of current the supreme court justices, are there any you feel you agree with more often than others? Are there any you feel have a fundamental misunderstanding of the constitution? If so, what would that misunderstanding be?
6. If oil remains above $100 a barrel, do you foresee any potential benefits? Do you feel the government should have a role in determining the price of commodities (as is already done for a lot of agricultural products) such as oil, drugs, and houses? Are there any products that you feel the government should never regulate in price, but should always be left to the whims of the free market?
7. Do you feel, twenty years after it was declared, that the war on drugs has been a success? What stratedgies and tactics would you alter should you continue the war? Would you be willing to continue the war for 100 years if neccessary?
Other questions are popping to mind, but this will do for now. If Clinton or Obama give me a call about moderating, I'll be sure to let y'all know.