Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"See How Smart I Am" Questions

The New York Times has published a series of questions various "experts" would "ask the candidates if they were moderating tonight's debate". Some of the questions are decent. Most fall into the categories of "Will you walk into my trap," or "See how smart I am?" (Except, for some reason, the "see how smart I am" questions often instead convey to me that the "expert" is, well, pretty dumb.)

Some examples:
  • Both of you have said the Constitution does not allow a president to detain a citizen without charges as an enemy combatant. But President Bush won court rulings upholding the indefinite detention of two Americans as enemy combatants. Were the courts wrong? Does a president have the authority to interpret the Constitution differently from the judiciary? Would you ever use the court-approved authority to hold a citizen indefinitely as an enemy combatant?
  • Social Security will go into a cash deficit during the next president's prospective second term. Therefore, if elected, you will: a) do nothing and leave growing deficits to your successor; b) cut benefits, eligibility or both, as President Bush tried; c) raise the payroll tax; or d) there is no d. Those are the only options.
  • Domestic gun owners kill more Americans each year than terrorists have in total since 2000 (even if you define all American fatalities in Iraq as related to terrorism). Can the homeland be secure when our schools are not? If your answer is no, will you take on the National Rifle Association and work for a gun law with teeth?
  • Both of you have argued for more widespread access to the Internet in schools. Given the recent "To Read or Not to Read" report from the National Endowment for the Arts, which revealed a steep decline in reading among young people, and the lack of evidence that computers in the classroom help students learn, wouldn't federal funds be better spent on projects that encourage reading and engagement with the arts?
  • Saddam Hussein also committed genocide by killing thousands of Iraqi Kurds with chemical weapons in the late 1980s and massacring thousands of Shiite marsh dwellers in southern Iraq after the first gulf war. How could we have left Mr. Hussein in power? How can Senator Obama say that removing a genocidal killer was a "dumb" war?
  • The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution bars any former president from election to a third term. Is it truly consistent with the spirit of the Constitution to have the same professional couple occupying the White House for 12 years? Isn't this all the more true when Bill Clinton promised that voters would receive, during his first term, "two for the price of one"?
As I've discussed in the past, this brand of "tough" question is often not so tough. Some of the questions deserve nothing more than an eye roll and a condescending retort. ("I note that you are a former advisor to the Giuliani campaign, so you are experienced with asking the wrong questions and demanding the wrong answers....")

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