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Let's play twenty questions

Given that Friday night's debate is a "town hall" style debate where non-professionals get to question the candidates, I thought I'd come up with a list of questions that I would ask if I were in the audience. (The New York Times had the same thought, printing a list of questions from prominent pundits -- except that their liberal worldview led them to structure the two sets of questions as "Senator Kerry: aren't liberal policies great?" and "President Bush: aren't conservative policies bad?") So here are approximately twenty non-rhetorical questions for each candidate, in no particular order:

For Kerry

  1. Why do you keep saying that you can get more allies on board for the war in Iraq when there are only a couple who have the operational capability to pour resources into Iraq, and those have already said they aren't interested? Whether or not you do get allies on board, what is your plan for fixing the current situation in Iraq?
  2. Do you think the US is capable of taking on both Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously? If so, why do you call the former a "distraction" from the latter? If not, aren't you embarrassed over the size of the American military budget?
  3. How do you plan to reduce the deficit when your own proposals call for spending even more in new government programs than you propose to raise in new taxes?
  4. How do you explain your vote against the first Gulf War if you believe that a vote for the second Gulf War was necessary to give the president's threats credibility?
  5. Assume that the United States had not invaded Iraq. What would you have done, beyond the invasion of Afghanistan, to reduce or end the terrorist threat? "Work with allies" is not a sufficient answer; that's merely a tactic; I'm looking for you to explain your larger, big picture strategy.
  6. You once suggested that if the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, there would only be two or three thousand people who might need sanctuary from the North Vietnamese after their inevitable victory. Do you think that your massive underestimation of the cost to the Vietnamese of American withdrawal demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of the threat American enemies pose?
  7. Assume the US hadn't invaded Iraq. What would have been your plan for maintaining the policy of containment when it was clear that our allies were unwilling to continue such a policy?
  8. Given the Democratic Party's stated commitment to treating people equally, why do you oppose gay marriage? How can you justify your support for racial preferences?
  9. If your plan for bilateral talks with North Korea proves fruitless, how will you contain and/or defeat them?
  10. Is there any area of the economy in which you believe government has no proper role?
  11. Is there any area of the economy or society in which you think states have a proper role but the federal government has no proper role?
  12. Can you identify one significant government regulatory or spending program that you would eliminate if you could?
  13. Other than the current guy, who do you think was the worst president the U.S. ever had, and why?
  14. What philosopher has had the biggest impact on your thinking, and why?
  15. It is likely that a Supreme Court justice will retire in the near future. Who are the two or three people on your short list of nominees to fill the first vacancy?
  16. Do you believe the second amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms? If so, why do you support "gun control"? If not, why do you read the second amendment so much more narrowly than you read the rest of the constitution?
  17. Do you call Bush's stem cell policy a "ban" because it sells better politically, or because you don't distinguish between lack of government subsidies and a ban?
  18. You endorsed the 9/11 commission's recommendations for reform of the intelligence community before you had even read them. Why?
  19. Do you believe that the best defense is a good offense? Or do you think that a defensive response to 9/11, such as enhancing port security, can be effective?
  20. What do you think the real reason was that the United States was attacked on 9/11?

For Bush

  1. How do you plan on reducing the deficit when you keep cutting taxes without corresponding cuts in spending -- when, in fact, you keep drastically increasing spending?
  2. Why was nobody fired over 9/11? Why was nobody fired over the mistaken Iraqi WMD predictions? Why has nobody been fired for any of the pre- or post-9/11 mistakes? Shouldn't there be some accountability?
  3. You keep saying that you provided as many troops as commanders on the ground asked for. Do you agree, even given the situation on the ground? If yes, how can you, given the situation on the ground? If not, why do you keep hiding behind that mantra, and why haven't you replaced the commanders that made these misjudgments?
  4. Other than training a new Iraqi police and military to keep law and order, do you have any plan for finishing up in Iraq? Or do we just have to hope that not too many Americans are killed before these forces are ready?
  5. Do you think the Iraqi WMD debacle has hurt American credibility in dealing with Iran?
  6. Do you believe Islamic terrorism is a serious domestic threat? If you do, why is the Justice Department waging war on medical marijuana, pornography, assisted suicide, and online gambling? How can people feel safe and confident in the government's ability to protect us domestically when you can't even catch the anthrax mailer?
  7. What's your plan for North Korea if your insistence on multilateral talks fails?
  8. Do you think global warming is (a) a hoax, (b) unproven, (c) real but not caused by human behavior, or (d) caused by human behavior?
  9. How can you justify signing McCain-Feingold when it provided for massive restrictions on political speech in violation of the first amendment?
  10. Can you identify one significant government regulatory or spending program that you plan to eliminate? Why didn't you eliminate this in your first four years, and why would anybody believe you're going to cut it now?
  11. How does it threaten the institution of marriage if gay marriage is allowed? If the institution of marriage is "sacred," shouldn't it be left to churches rather than the state?
  12. Assuming the United States succeeds in Iraq, what is the next step you plan to take?
  13. Who do you think was the worst president the U.S. ever had, and why?
  14. Not counting Jesus, what philospher has had the biggest impact on your thinking, and why?
  15. Why haven't you vetoed any spending bills?
  16. During the last campaign, you said you would nominate Supreme Court justices in the mold of Justices Scalia and Thomas. But although both Justices are conservatives who oppose judicial activism, they have some significant differences. Would you nominate someone closer to the conservative Scalia or the libertarian Thomas?
  17. Why are you putting such a low priority on programs such as Nunn-Lugar, which would reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation?
  18. Can you answer the question you failed to answer in your last press conference? What mistakes have you made? Trading Sammy Sosa doesn't count.
  19. Other than drilling in ANWR, how do you plan to reduce independence on Middle Eastern oil? Is nuclear energy part of your plan, and how do you propose to overcome NIMBYism and environmental objections if it is?
  20. You claim to be a "compassionate conservative," and yet you've presided over a massive increase in domestic spending and deficits, you've abandoned federalism, and you've flip-flopped on free trade. Other than your opposition to abortion and gay marriage, in what way do you think your policies conform to conservative ideas?

I could probably come up with more, given time, but I think that's more than sufficient. To both of my readers: free to add your own suggestions in the comments section...


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Comments (1)


Not a bad list (I didn't think the Times questions, with the exceptions of Cuban's and Cox's were terrible).

I would like to see Bush asked about the false cost estimates provided to Congress on the Medicare bill, and why anyone should trust budget estimates that his administration provides after that.

I'd like to see both candidates asked about their position on the detention of US citizens without trial in the War on Terror, as well as their position on the issues in the Moussaui case (should he have access to certain witnesses; should he be threatened with a military tribunal if he seeks such access).

I would like to ask Bush what his threshold for success in Iraq is. Are there any future circumstances under which he would regret having invaded? At what point would he consider the war not to be worth it?

I'd like to ask Kerry a similar question. If we had really been greeted as liberators and the insurgency had ended soon after Baghdad fell, would he consider the war to be good policy?

I would also like to ask Kerry whether he believes Bill Clinton misled the American people when he said Saddam had WMD in 1998.

I would like to ask them both what they believe the targeted unemployment rate should be in the U.S. (I guess, what our "structural unemployment rate" is).

I'd like to ask both candidates how we'll know when we've won the War on Terror.


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