Debate Questions I'd (Still) Like To Ask

[ Posted Wednesday, April 16th, 2008 – 13:02 UTC ]

Back in the dim and distant past of this presidential campaign (i.e., February), I wrote a pre-debate column listing questions I would like to hear both Democratic candidates answer. Today's column is a revision of this original. Many of the questions I have are the same, for which I apologize. I don't normally recycle my own material in this fashion, but unfortunately these questions remain largely unanswered, almost two months after the last debate.

As I previously stated, I (of course) 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 in the comments.

[I have a few specific questions for each candidate, and then a list of questions I'd like to ask both candidates.]


Senator Clinton, if you were told a black preacher were giving a sermon next weekend entitled "Why America May Go To Hell," what would your reaction be?

Senator Clinton, a followup question... would you say the same thing if you knew that the preacher in question was the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and that the sermon was the one he was working on when he was assassinated?


Senator Obama, given your recent comments on guns, please state exactly where you stand on the Second Amendment, background checks for gun sales, banning assault weapons, and the ban on handguns for the residents of Washington, D.C.


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? Why did you appear at public events supporting it at the time?


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, John McCain recently unveiled some tax proposals. I'd like to ask you specifically about two of them. Would you support a law being passed this year to give a "tax holiday" to Americans on their purchases of gasoline this summer? Why or why not?

Senators Clinton and Obama, John McCain also said he supported doubling the personal exemption on income taxes. This would benefit almost everyone who fills out a tax form in America. Do you support this idea or not, and why?


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 fully 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, given that America will face a dangerous world in the next four years, what qualifications would you look for in your nominations for Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State?


Senators Clinton and Obama, would you consider putting a Republican on your Cabinet if you thought they were the most qualified to do the job?


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 shut down Guantanamo Bay as a location to hold prisoners, what would you do with the people locked up there? Where would they go? What would happen to them?


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?


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


4 Comments on “Debate Questions I'd (Still) Like To Ask”

  1. [1] 
    Arthur wrote:

    Chris -

    You're aware, aren't you, that "Present" votes in the State Senate aren't just neutral acknowledgements of being in attendance, but practically the equivalent to voting "No", right? His "Present" vote on the anti-abortion bills, for example were part of strategy he worked out with Planned Parenthood to get more moderate senators to vote the bills down. More here...

    ...and many other places, really. Surprised you didn't know about this one already, it's rather old news. I'd cut that question from the list.

  2. [2] 
    fstanley wrote:

    Good questions. I like the last one about the executive orders - as in "three wishes" to make things right. I would be very interested to hear their answers to that question.

    My question:
    Many poles have shown that a large majority think the country is going in the wrong direction. What do you think is the right direction for America?


  3. [3] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Arthur -

    Click over to the Huffpost article (last link in above text), as I just answered a similar complaint there in the comments.

    Yes, I am aware that there are explanations for the "present" votes, but never from Obama himself. I don't think this is a huge issue, but I do think it will be used against him by McCain in the fall. So I think the question needs to be asked to Obama directly, to defuse it for later.

    His problem is that no matter how he answers it, it's going to look like "playing politics." This will hurt him a little in the authenticity department. But I don't think it's a major scandal, or even a scandal at all. He needs to address it, explain it, and then we can all move on. But I still think it's a fair question for a Democratic debate forum, personally.

    Thanks for commenting.


  4. [4] 
    Arthur wrote:

    Fair enough, Chris...Though personally, if anyone should be asked a question on this issue, it's Hillary. Something along the lines of "Senator Clinton, you have publicly criticized Senator Obama for his 'Present' votes in the Senate as if they were not actual votes, when in fact, 'Present' votes are practically the equivalent of 'No' votes in the Senate, and his abortion-related 'Present' votes were with the blessing of Planned Parenthood. Did you not already know this? If you did, then why did you attempt to deceive the voters with it, and if not, then - with your '35 years of experience' in American politics - why not?"

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