Here are 6 questions this week's Democratic debate monitors should ask the candidates ⁠— but won't

Here are 6 questions this week's Democratic debate monitors should ask the candidates ⁠— but won't
Elizabeth Warren LGBTQ Town Hall Screengrab

Here’s the thing about these election debates that continue on Tuesday: They are not working. That is, however effective at eliminating the worst fund-raisers, they do not serve as a good screen for the range of skills that we think make for a good president or good governing.

Rather, they are an expression of our societal obsession with voting people off the island for a momentary gaffe or noticing an ugliness in pursuit of self that seems a phrase too far. The truth is that none of the proposals being wickedly thrown across these stages will emerge whole in the maw of Congress and enactment.

We get it. Personalities aside, the candidates are either in the Joe Biden incremental improvement wing, or in the what-can-we-do with government wing like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Beto O’Rourke wants activism on gun control. Julian Castro on immigration. Cory Booker on criminal justice and so forth.

Plus, the current impeachment questioned and the attack on Joe Biden are bound to send the questions in those directions rather than focus on new leadership.

We need to ask different questions to get at what I want to know, change the silly clock-timed responses and invite civility into the discussion. There are more of these debates coming, starting mid-October. Maybe someone will get it right.

1. Using one issue, how would your administration differentiate itself from Donald Trump’s in the process you use to persuade others to agree with you?

We see what Trump does when he wants a 2,800-mile Wall on the border, despite the fact that it is not justified by research, popular mandate or congressional authority. He demeans people who disagree, as well as enacting abusive family separation policies. He suspends asylum laws altogether. He orders the elimination of legal immigration policies to gain a political hand in the debate to fund his Wall. He presses for campaign rally cries to chant that Mexico will pay for the Wall, only to end up partially closing the government when he does not get his way. In the end, Trump steals from military construction accounts, likely breaking Constitutional authorities, and, for sure, running afoul of his own promises to improve base facilities for military families. Trump does not persuade, he seeks to stomp.

2. What do you see as the biggest failings of the Trump administration and how would you address those failings?

To me, it is too easy for these candidates to mix policy and style disagreements. Would life really be better if this president loses his tweeting phone? Which of the ethical abuses of this White House and Cabinet is the biggest issue, obstruction of justice as outlined by the Mueller Report or the sustained attack on environmental regulation, especially in the face of Climate Change? Is it the White House war on women, abortion, healthcare access or racism. Is it the loss of American prestige, corporate greed or unwarranted kowtowing to lobbyists, including the National Rifle Association. You can’t fix a problem unless you identify it. What I am seeking in this question is some sense of how each candidate sees American values at risk and what we need to do to restore them, other than to criticize one another’s approaches to health policy.

3. Whom would you select to advise you? That is, what qualities should we expect to see in the White House decision-making process in your administration?

No one rightly believes that the president alone makes all decisions – though this president probably comes close, since he rejects science, intelligence, advice of allies, the word from Congress, even the weather forecast information, unless it already comports with his presumed worldview on a particular subject. This is the question of whether we see the blend of America in a Cabinet rather than a frame full of white, rich men and women, who clearly have proved themselves in sync only with unregulated private corporations and who are so clearly divorced from seeing actual life. When former President Barack Obama was asked to name qualities for a Supreme Court justice before the nomination of Sandra Sotomayor, he said “empathy” was important. That word alone was loaded with understanding for both supporters and foes of the president. What will be the role of intelligence agencies and for Cabinet officials? What will cooperation – or contention – with a Congress look like? What is the role of science and the acquisition of actual facts before proposing, for example, to eliminate the private health insurance industry? In some ways, the biggest legacy of the Trump years has been the elimination of fact from policy-making opinion.

4. How would you seek to heal a country now facing yet deeper division over the possibilities of impeachment?

All of the Democratic candidates say they support impeachment inquiry proceedings, with several already moving to the next stage of indictment and even ouster. But the question of how to help a hurting nation deal with the results? Not so much.

5. What would you see as the legacy of your presidency?

Lost in the fund-raising, the polling, the positioning and the rest, lost in the one-line quips on stage and the sneak attack on age or some other personality status, is the central question of why we should be electing any of these people. This is a job interview. There are no right or wrong answers. There just is an attempt to get each candidate to persuade me as the hirer to see life through his or her eyes.

6. How will you keep your administration from running into gridlock with a Senate majority as it did Obama?

What’s the plan for dealing with Mitch McConnell, who simply refuses to put legislation on the floor of the majority Republican Senate?

Happy voting.


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