Everyone is playing the expectations game in advance of tomorrow night’s Biden-Palin debate. Most of it is just self-serving blather, but Jed Lewison’s piece on the Huffington Post stood out to me as an exception because Lewison included video of Palin’s prior debates. Anyone who is expecting a complete face-plant by Gov. Palin may be disappointed. See for yourself.
Now, if the sum total of your exposure to Gov. Palin were limited entirely to her convention speech, her ABC interview, and her CBS interview, I think you’d fall out of your chair if she performed half as well Thursday night as she did in Lewison’s clips. But I think that’s a real possibility. Granted, these are debates on Alaskan issues with which Gov. Palin was presumably familiar from her time in local government, and she has so far shown no evidence of having given comparable thought to national or international issues. But I think her biggest problem in one-on-one interviews has been her inability to handle run-of-the-mill follow-up questions, and that apparently won’t be a problem for her tomorrow night.
Meanwhile, what do we really want to know from these candidates? Here are some questions I’d ask them both:
- For almost three weeks now, we’ve heard that our financial markets are in crisis. Both presidential candidates say they support federal intervention in the crisis, but many commentators have criticized the Bush administration for failing to explain to ordinary Americans why intervention is needed. Can you explain, at least in broad outline, the factors you think are the primary causes of this crisis, what we ought to do about them now, and what we should do about them next January when the new Congress and new President take over?
- Congress has not declared a war since 1941, yet we have troops all over the world and extremely significant combat troop commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq. If you became President, what circumstances would you consider necessary and sufficient to justify a commitment of U.S. troops?
- Do we need to do anything about our budget deficit, and if so, what?
- The Bush administration has sometimes asserted that the President’s role as commander in chief allows him not just to send combat troops around the world, but to act within our own borders in ways that have historically been considered subject to the authority of another branch of government. For example, the administration has engaged in warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens without observing the limits set down by Congress in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and has detained certain citizens without any trial by the judicial branch. How important is the constitutional principle of separation of powers to our overall system of government, and do you believe that constitutional doctrine should apply even when the President asserts that national security is at stake?
- Many voters on both sides of the abortion issue consider it to be a sort of “trump” issue, in that they simply refuse to vote for a candidate who does not share their beliefs on that particular issue. What would you say to voters who disagree with you about abortion to convince them that your position is sound, or at the very least that it should not disqualify you from their consideration?
- The Internal Revenue Code contains over 5 million words, and it has been estimated that Americans spend over 6 billion hours filling out their income tax returns. There are only a few different rates that people are supposed to pay, but because of all the deductions, credits, and other loopholes, the overall effect is like a Turkish bazaar in which no one really pays the advertised price. Putting aside for the moment any questions about whether total taxation should be higher or lower, do you think some form of tax simplification would be desirable? Why or why not?
- Who are some of the people you admire most in American history, and why?
- Both campaigns are promising change to the voters. If you are successful both before and after the election, are there any parts of your administration that you think future historians will find to have been significant turning points for the country?
That’ll do for starters. Maybe reasonable minds will add more in the comments.