The VP Debate, the Expectations Game, and Eight Questions for the Candidates

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. Do we need to do anything about our budget deficit, and if so, what?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. Who are some of the people you admire most in American history, and why?
  8. 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.


9 Responses to “The VP Debate, the Expectations Game, and Eight Questions for the Candidates”

  1. David Fitzgerald Says:

    9. Please explain for the voters how a credit default swap works?

    Hillarity to follow.

  2. Timothy Peach Says:

    Does anybody have even a little bit of concern about this?

    I mean, is it common practice to have the moderator of a vice-presidential debate be someone who’s already written a book about one of the candidate’s rise to greatness scheduled for release on Inauguration Day?

    What questions should we expect”

    “Gov. Palin, you’re clearly an idiot. How do you expect to compete with people of normal intelligence on the national stage?”

    “Sen. Biden, how does it feel to be closely associated with someone so wonderful people swoon in his presence? Do you ever get jealous?”

    “Gov. Palin, after you and McCain lose the election in a landslide, will you read my new book about Pres. Obama? And don’t expect a free copy, you can buy it at the airport like all the other has-been chumps.”

    “Sen. Biden, do you worry about how poorly your follow-on Presidency will compare with eight years of the Power and the Glory of the Anointed One?”

    I understand the McCain campaign has complained, and they’re going to offer them three choices as a replacement: Katie Couric, Bill Maher, or Vladimir Putin. I’d go with Putin, who is probably hot for Palin like the Pakistani Prime Minister, which should even things out a bit.

  3. First Dude Says:

    Don’t worry about the liberal media advocating for Democrats. This is nothing new. Palin is going to smoke Joe Biden because she is a Master Debater. The photo on this website is all the proof you need.

    I’m Pullin’ For Palin – The Unofficial Tribute To Our Future VPILF

  4. Mark Grannis Says:

    Sorry, First Dude, but I’m going to have to whistle you for a foul on the URL you put in your comment. As I sometimes have to remind one of my co-authors, it’s a family blog. I’ve left up the comment, including the questionable acronym, but I’ll ask you to sell your T-shirts someplace else.

    Also, I see from your site that you didn’t take it too well when the Obama campaign told you to remove their logo from your seriously anti-Palin website, so let me just say in advance: This isn’t censorship. You have your website, and I have mine. Let’s keep them separate.

  5. Mark Grannis Says:

    In answer to Tim, yes, I have some concern about the Ifill controversy. The appearance is extremely unfortunate, and it’s hard for me to understand how this could happen. On the other hand, it’s not like Ifill is judging the debate; she’s just asking the questions. And viewers can judge for themselves whether she is fair to both sides. Charlie Gibson had no conflict of interest when he interviewed Sarah Palin, but his handling of the interview was widely criticized. If Ifill is unfair, she’ll be criticized too. If she plays it straight, people will see that.

    The other point to consider is something I learned way back in the 80s when I wrote a law review note about recusal of elected judges in cases involving their campaign contributors (who are overwhelmingly lawyers). I recall a lawyer saying in an interview that it was not always possible to say which side the conflict of interest would favor — the contributor’s side (assuming favoritism by the judge) or the contributor’s opponent’s side (assuming the judge would bend over backward to avoid charges of favoritism). I think that’s the situation in which Ms. Ifill finds herself, and I can’t imagine why she would want to be in that position, but I guess that’s between her and the Presidential Debate Commission.

  6. Timothy Peach Says:

    Fair enough, I just think journalistic integrity would dictate that you back out. You’ve picked a side, with gusto, and that’s fine. But that ought to disqualify you from certain functions, with debate moderator begin one of them.

    Purely tactically, it’s hard to say which way this cuts. The choice of questions is now likely to be another “pop quiz” format where we test Palin’s memory of things she’s had to learn in the last month rather than getting into matters of genuine candidate opinion and judgment.

    On the other hand, it does give Palin an excuse, and having 80 million people get a gulletful of MSM bias usually helps the Republicans, but anything that taints the debate is bad for the American people. I want them all to be up to the standard of the first one, which in my opinion was high.

  7. David Olazabal Says:

    I have to agree that given what may be at stake, Ifill should have bowed out (or been asked by Obama campaign to be replaced) and been replaced by another woman (Judy Woodruff/Cokie Roberts? – I am having a hard time coming up with ideas). The idea of another white guy moderating this debate would have given the Republicans an easy scapegoat if Palin gave another Tina Fey performance (gibberish).

    I have read so much hype/analysis/strategy re this debate my head is starting to swim. Articles from Fareed Zakaria calling for Gov. Palin to step down from the nomination or from Dahlia Lithwick suggesting that she may do longterm damage to women’s credibility are all interesting, but I simply look back to how this all got started. As McCain was criticizing Obama for putting politics before country, McCain nominates a person that he had spoken with one time before in his life. I am not sure I would trust someone to pick up my mail if I had only spoken with them one time in my life. His first “decision” as president, naming the person “one breath away” from being president, could not be justified in any way, other than a Hail Mary for political reasons. To try to do otherwise is futile and demonstrates a judgment easily brought into question.

    The post mortem for tonight’s debate will be grueling. Someone should have a tranquilizer gun handy as Keith Olberman may need serious sedation. Good times.

  8. Timothy Peach Says:

    Post-mortem on Ifill — her approach did not reveal any bias.

  9. David Olazabal Says:

    Re post-mortem on Ifill. I believe debate rules precluded her from asking follow up questions and Palin’s strategy of answering whatever questions she felt like made Ifill’s presence and possible bias irrelevant. Queen Latifah’s reprisal of Ifill’s role and corresponding incredulity to Palin’s responses on SNL was priceless. I did hear Tina Fey at the Emmy awards note that she hopes never to have to do Palin again after Nov. 4th.

    As I mentioned to Mark, the VP debate is over and the impact may be negligible as the focus returns to the top of the ticket, the economy, etc. Palin’s 15 minutes may be done. Peggy Noonan of WSJ commented that Palin is not a thinker but a person of action. Sounds eerily familiar. The Republican enthusiasm for Joe/Jane Sixpack as Pres/VP is disconcerting as the qualities of curiousity, intellectualism and complex thought are ridiculed. Disappointing.

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