[Political Asylum ]Unlikely Questions for the First Presidential Debate | Harper's Magazine

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A sampling of topics we're not likely to hear discussed at the first, "domestic" presidential debate. These are the questions that, if they are somehow asked, we can expect both candidates to strenuously avoid answering.

Some questions that are highly unlikely to be asked at the first, “domestic” presidential debate on Wednesday—or that will, if they are somehow asked, be strenuously avoided by both candidates.

From Kevin Baker:

  • Governor Romney, your party adamantly denies that global climate change is occurring, or insists that, if it is occurring, it isn’t man-made, and that there is nothing we could or should do about it. Much of your party also refuses to believe in evolution. Given the number of scientific disciplines related to these subjects, most of your supporters must per se believe that the vast majority of the world’s scientists—biologists, paleontologists, climatologists, geologists, etc.—are engaged in massive, decades-long hoaxes designed to fool the rest of the population. Do you agree that they are indeed perpetrating these massive frauds?
  • President Obama, we keep hearing that any sort of “grand bargain” aimed at closing the budget deficit will include an agreement to raise the age at which Americans can retire, and to reduce their benefits and compensation upon retirement. Isn’t this squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle? If senior citizens really are required to work additional years before they can retire, won’t this mean that that many more young workers will have to wait longer to find a place in the workforce? Or, alternatively, won’t this mean that employers are all the more likely to fire older workers and replace them with young people who will work for less—and thereby leave these older workers scrambling to find employment while they wait for their Social Security and Medicare benefits to kick in?
  • Governor Romney, it is now a common belief among Republicans that entitlement programs cause dependency. Do you agree that programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security have made older Americans dependent?
  • President Obama, the National Defense Authorization Act, which you signed into law this year, specifically “affirms” that you as president have the right to have the military detain indefinitely any person, including American citizens, who you deem to have supported terrorists targeting the United States. When you signed the bill into law, you issued a signing statement saying that your administration would not keep any such suspects indefinitely detained without trial, and that you had serious reservations about these provisions. But aren’t you just handing over this authority, which you think may be unconstitutional, to the whim of future presidents?
  • Governor Romney, you’ve said repeatedly that you intend to offset some of your planned tax cuts by filling in various unnamed loopholes and deductions in the federal tax code. Leaving aside for a moment just what those loopholes are, do you really expect them to stay plugged up? Wasn’t that the same grand bargain President Reagan supposedly worked out with congressional leaders such as Senator Bill Bradley in 1986—a flatter but simpler federal tax code? And yet innumerable deductions and loopholes have somehow found their way back into the code. What plan do you have for ensuring that this time is different?
  • President Obama, you endorsed the “card check” method to make union organizing easier when you ran for president in 2008. Yet once in office, you did nothing to support card-check policies or otherwise to facilitate union organizing. Meanwhile, you’ve maintained what is at least a neutral position in regard to all unions, private and public, refusing to throw your administration’s support behind Wisconsin’s municipal unions, and actually supporting an attempt to fire every teacher at a Rhode Island high school. Are there any major union goals you can see yourself actively supporting in a second term?
  • Governor Romney, your party platform calls for the privatization of Amtrak’s Northeast corridor, along with most other inter-city public transportation. Do you support these ideas? And if so, why, given that the Northeast corridor is the one profitable section of the Amtrak system—and one that replaced bankrupt private rail companies more than forty years ago?
  • President Obama, you, like most other presidents and presidential candidates, have actively encouraged all young people to earn a college degree. Yet the percentage of the population with college degrees has increased from about 5 percent to a little over 25 percent since the end of World War II. This is a tremendous increase, yet it was achieved only with massive government financial support—support that has declined in real dollar terms in recent years. Given that 25 percent is still well short of 100 percent, is it realistic to expect that all young Americans will earn college degrees anytime in the foreseeable future? Given the amount of indebtedness that earning such degrees entails, is it wise for them to even try? And don’t these facts speak to the overwhelming need to restore America’s manufacturing base?
  • Governor Romney, one of the major scandals to break during the Bush Administration was the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, which effectively ended the political career of House whip Tom DeLay, among others. The worst abuses uncovered in the investigation of the scandal involved the exploitation of workers in an American commonwealth in the Pacific, the Northern Mariana Islands. Mr. Abramoff was able to keep in place for years a sweatshop system in which thousands of young Asian women were recruited from their homelands, often cheated out of their pay, and routinely forced into prostitution—a setup that included forced abortions at special clinics near the factories where the women worked. For his part in this and other scandals, Mr. Abramoff spent almost four years in jail. Yet his two longtime lobbying partners in this endeavor remain at large. One of them, Ralph Reed, is a leading fundraiser for your campaign, and a key advocate for you among evangelical Christians. The other, Grover Norquist, seems to now dictate party tax policy. Considering their long and involved business partnership with Mr. Abramoff, why are these individuals leading figures in your campaign and your party?
  • President Obama, considering how ubiquitous marijuana use is in our society today, and how easily the criminal penalties for it are elided under the medical-marijuana laws many states have adopted, why is anyone still doing jail time for selling or using pot? Isn’t it true that this drug is no more harmful—and probably a good deal less destructive—than alcohol? Hasn’t it been used by almost every American from high school age on up? And wouldn’t we really be better off, as some critics have urged, legalizing cannabis and taxing the profits?

From Jack Hitt:

  • Governor Romney, a mass killing occurs every few weeks now in America. It’s easy to point to laws that make it easier to kill people. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law? Two-thirds of those who invoke it have criminal records, according to a Tampa Bay Times article published on July 22. A third are violent offenders. Some are murderers trying to be acquitted of a second killing. Given this atmosphere, does a president have any moral duty to show leadership on this issue? What should a president do?
  • President Obama, you have indicated that the people who will be really disappointed with your second term will be Democrats. You told the Associated Press on August 25 that if Republicans are willing, “I’m prepared to make a whole range of compromises,” including some that will rankle your own party. Tell us about one of those issues that you believe will rankle your own supporters.
  • Governor Romney, on Sunday Paul Ryan said that stating how much your proposed 20 percent across-the-board tax cut would cost in federal revenues “would take me too long.” When Virginia governor Bob McDonnell was asked this question, he said, “That’s a laughable question.” But Governor Romney, this is a single number. So, let’s try it again, how much money will your 20 percent tax cut cost?

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