TCS Daily

Let's Play 20 Questions

By Radley Balko - January 9, 2004 12:00 AM

One of the most frustrating parts of watching the Democratic presidential debates is the poor questioning from moderators, journalists, and fellow debaters. The questions tend to be vague, predictable, too focused on the "horserace" aspects of the campaign, and usually leave the candidates too much room to maneuver away from the thrust of the question. Here, a list of questions I'd like to see them answer:

· Every campaign season, candidates promise us new government agencies and programs to deal with whatever problems they believe are on the voters' minds. Many of these agencies and programs later become law. But we never hear a candidate say that a particular agency has lost its usefulness, is no longer effective, or that its mission has been duplicated by another agency. Surely there are some federal programs or agencies that are no longer necessary. My question: Can you name three federal programs or agencies that you would move to abolish as president?

· Similarly, nearly every bill passed by Congress and signed into law by the president in some way chips away just a bit more of the freedom we enjoy as Americans. We often hear about new laws a candidate would sign as president, but we rarely hear about laws no longer necessary that a candidate would repeal, thus returning a bit of liberty to the country. Can you name three existing federal laws that you would repeal as president?

· Do you believe an atheist or agnostic could be an effective president? Could you see yourself ever voting for one?

· There are generally two tracts an elected official can take once he's in office. He can assume that he was elected to vote his conscience regardless of popular sentiment, or he can vote in a manner that represents the will of his constituents. As president, there will inevitably be times when your own convictions put you at odds with the will of the American people. When such a conflict arises, how will you act?

· If U.S. forces were to capture Osama bin Laden, and there was reason to believe a terrorist attack on U.S. soil was imminent, would you approve the use of torture on him to prevent that attack?

· If forced to choose, which of your eight competitors would you vote for?

· Most of you have criticized President Bush for acting "unilaterally" in his foreign policy. Most of you also favor U.S. participation in the International Criminal Court. We've also seen increasing instances of international law influencing U.S. court decisions. Where do you draw the line between national sovereignty and cooperation with international governing bodies?

· Most all of you have at some point accused President Bush of "lying" in the lead-up to the war with Iraq. Is it ever proper for a public servant to mislead or lie to the public in order to achieve a greater good?

· Let's say you're the Democratic nominee. Let's say that you discover a loophole in the new campaign finance law that may possibly violate the letter of the law, but certainly violates its spirit and intent. Regardless, let's say that there's very little chance you'd be discovered should you decide to take advantage of the loophole. Let's say that if you were to capitalize on this loophole, you'd certainly be elected, and that your party would likely take control of Congress -- meaning you could pass virtually your entire agenda. Pass on the taking advantage of the loophole, and the Republicans likely retain power. Do you break/bend the campaign rules for the good of the country?

For Howard Dean:

· You opposed the war with Iraq, but supported intervention in Liberia. Reasonable people can disagree about just how much a threat Iraq posed to U.S. safety and security, but it's difficult to envision a scenario where Liberia would be more of a threat than Iraq. What exactly are your criteria for when the U.S. should and shouldn't send troops into conflict? Of the military actions the United States has undertaken in the last twenty years, which would you have supported and why?

· Since announcing your candidacy, you've been coy about your past support for gun rights. Do you believe the Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms?

For John Kerry:

· You've criticized Governor Dean for stating that if captured alive, he'd want Osama bin Laden to stand for trial. Isn't this the exact type of situation for which the International Criminal Court was established, which you support?

For Dennis Kucinich:

· You scrapped a career-long antiabortion position just as you were preparing to run for president. You have since made "reproductive choice" a central issue of your campaign. Was the timing of your epiphany on the abortion issue mere coincidence?

· What in the world is up with this?

For Carol Mosely Braun:

· Is Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe a dictator? Would you support his bring overthrown?

For Joe Lieberman:

· You were all over the media criticizing Governor Dean for expressing skepticism that America is safer because of the capture of Saddam Hussein. But if Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction -- as most everyone believes he did -- and those are now unaccounted for, it means he must have moved them to another country, or sold them. Isn't at least possible that we were safer with those weapons in one place, under the control over one largely cornered dictator, than we are with those weapons unaccounted for, and possible dispersed to places like Syria or Pakistan, or available on the international black market?

· You've recently said that you would appoint an FDA panel to tackle America's obesity problem. You've been an outspoken critic of violent video games, and of sex and violence in music, television and movies. Do you believe that "protecting people from themselves" is a legitimate function of government?

For John Edwards:

· You've made lots of money off of medical malpractice suits. How do you respond to critics who point to your early, landmark awards in those cases as the origin of the "runaway jury" problem, which has pushed malpractice insurance premiums so high that doctors have left the region, and there are now vast areas of the south where certain types of medical care are no longer available? How would you address the problem?

· You once said that federal judicial nominee Miguel Estrada -- who had the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association, edited the Harvard Law Review, has argued 15 cases before the US Supreme Court, and worked with Solicitor's General for administrations of both parties -- was an "unqualified" candidate who merely "had the right last name." Recent memos written by staff for Democrats on the senate judiciary committee reveal a coordinated effort to defeat Estrada not because of his qualifications, but because he is Hispanic and conservative, a combination that would make him difficult to defeat should he ever be nominated for the Supreme Court. My question: Do you oppose Estrada's nomination because of his qualifications, his ideology, or his ethnicity? What qualifications does he lack that you look for in a nominee? Do blacks and Hispanics have a special obligation to favor policies endorsed by the Democratic Party?

For Al Sharpton:

· You once said of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, "he's my color, but he's not my kind." You recently said that judicial nominee Janice Rogers Brown, who is black, deserved an up or down vote, but later changed your mind. My question: Is there a "black kind" way to be a federal judge? Are there certain political positions someone must hold to be sufficiently of the "black kind?"

· According to the Associated Press, you publicly asserted at least 33 times that New York prosecutor Steven Pagones "kidnapped, abused, and raped" Tawana Brawley. Pagones has since been cleared by a jury, a grand jury, and won a defamation suit against you. Given your position as a civil rights leader, and given the long and tragic history of false rape accusations against black men by white women, will you ever apologize to Steven Pagones?

For Richard Gephardt:

· You've quoted your father, a milkman, crediting his union and the collective bargaining process for providing "everything we had" in your childhood. But your brother told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that your father only joined the Teamsters because he was forced to, that he was a staunch Republican, and that "he had the feeling you had to make it on your own, that any kind of welfare program would just raise taxes." Would your administration vigorously enforce the Supreme Court's Beck decision, which forbids the use of mandatory union dues for political activity, so that men like your father don't have to contribute to political causes they don't support?

For Wesley Clark:

· In a speech at the University of Iowa, you conceded that the war in Kosovo, which you commanded, was "technically illegal." Several international organizations have concluded likewise. You also conceded that had the Kosovo campaign been put to a UN Security Council vote, it most certainly would not have survived the veto of either Russia or China. The Clinton administration's claims of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo letter proved to be exaggerated, and in any case, post-war retribution on the Serbs was far worse than the genocide we intervened to stop. When weighing the brutality of Milosevic vs. Saddam, the threat each posed to the United States, and the degree of international support for each campaign, can you today still claim that the war in Kosovo was proper, but the war with Iraq wasn't? If so, how?

· You've introduced a tax plan in which the bottom half of families pay no federal income tax at all. If half the population pays no income taxes, aren't you concerned that that half will be incentivized to vote themselves entitlements, benefits and redistribution programs at the expense of those who shoulder the tax burden?


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