On Tuesday, I made a plea for better questions for presidential debates. Here's what you came up with:
1) Can you describe legislation which you think would be good for the country if only it could be legally enacted, but which is unconstitutional?
2) What lessons do you, as current (or potential) commander in chief, take from America's war in Iraq? If you think the war was a mistake, how will you conduct our foreign policy to avoid a repeat of that experience? If you still stand by American intervention, why was it a good idea?
3) Wade Michael Page, Nidal Malik Hasan, and Robert Bales were either enlisted or were military veterans. The rate of suicide by veterans is at an all-time high. As the commander in chief of the armed forces, what specific steps would you take to deal with the mental health crisis affecting our soldiers and veterans?
4) In your job as president, you will be responsible for managing one of the largest annual budgets in the country. I am curious how you would manage one of the smallest. Pretend for a moment that you lived in Oregon where the minimum wage is $8.80 an hour. Imagine that you are working full time for minimum wage. Your annual income, before taxes, would be $18,304. This would give you a monthly salary of $1,525.33 (again though it would probably be less as no taxes have been deducted). If you were so lucky as to find an apartment for $650 a month and rode the bus to and from work every day, that would leave you with $787.83 for ALL of your expenses. How would you manage that budget? What would you do, if anything, to get assistance?
5) Government serves as a risk-sharing mechanism. Our tax dollars are pooled to protect individuals and communities against unforeseen catastrophes, be they medical, environmental, or financial. Is this an appropriate function for government? By what principles should the appropriate breadth and subject-area of this risk-collectivization be defined? Are there specific areas where the government is providing "too much" insurance? Are there areas where it is not providing enough?
6) What specific lessons does experience in business provide? Which of these pertain to the office of the president? Mr. Romney, you have emphasized your time in the private sector as your main credential for the job (even though you have governed a state). But you have not been specific. What exactly do you understand about the economy that Mr. Obama does not? How would you have addressed the financial and economic crises of 2008? Please keep in mind that lowering taxes and regulations have been Republican policy ideas in good times and bad. What special insight would you, as a businessman, have been able to provide to our country in that unique situation?
7) Mr. Romney, you have stated your support for a constitutional amendment requiring any candidate for president to have worked for at least three years in a business in the private sector. Why did you select a running mate who does not qualify for president under the standards you would like to see imposed on future candidates?
8) What is your position on establishing an independent, nonpartisan commission to investigate the authorization and use of forms of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in counterterrorism efforts?
9) President Obama, your administration reportedly considers all military-age males in "conflict zones" (i.e., places the U.S. is bombing) to be enemy combatants until proven otherwise. If true, how has your administration arrived at such a conclusion? Moreover, how do you reconcile such a policy with the protections granted to civilians under the Geneva Conventions? If this is not true, then how do you define an "enemy combatant"? Can minors be enemy combatants and thus subject to drone strikes?
10) Is it realistic to think that we can kill all of the "terrorists"? If so, how do you plan on doing so? If not, what is your plan?
11) Does every law-abiding citizen have a right to food, a right to shelter, a right to education, and a right to health care provided by the federal government? Otherwise stated, does the U.S. government owe each person a house, a meal, a college degree, and the health care they require?
12) President Obama, you recently you issued an executive order stating that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is to exercise prosecutorial discretion regarding the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, are under 30 years old, and have a high school degree. Why did you wait until 3.5 years into your presidency to issue such an order? How do you respond to those who claim that this is a cynical, nonbinding agreement that can be reversed at any time and does not compensate for the record number of noncriminal undocumented immigrants who have been deported in EVERY year of your administration? Do you believe that noncriminal, undocumented immigrants over 30 should be deported? Does it matter if they have U.S. citizen minor children?
13) How do you explain the disparity in incarceration rates for nonviolent drug offenses between minorities and Caucasians? Is it a matter of police misconduct or a symptom of more widespread inequity? Or are minorities inherently more likely to comment felony drug offenses than other races? On a related point, the U.S. has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of its prisoners. Are American citizens more likely than other populations to commit crime? If not, how do you explain this?
14) What would you consider to be the flaws of your political ideology?
15) Sometimes democracy promotion and combating Islamic extremism go hand-in-hand, but they can also come into conflict when newly democratizing nations elect Islamist parties. In those cases how should the United States reconcile competing policy objectives? Do the security interests of the United States call for subordinating democracy promotion to counter-terrorism?
16) Every candidate talks about broadening the tax base and eliminating preferences in the tax code. One of the biggest preferences, the home-mortgage interest deduction, distorts housing markets, unreasonably prefers owner-occupied housing over rental housing, and costs taxpayers hundreds of millions in foregone revenue. In the interest of making the tax code fairer and balancing the budget, would your administration support ending this wasteful tax expenditure?
17) President Reagan cut taxes and quadrupled the national debt. President Clinton raised taxes and began running a small surplus by the end of his administration, which could have been used to start paying down the national debt. President Bush cut taxes and doubled the national debt, again. President Obama extended those tax cuts and has proposed to keep most of them in place (except on the very rich), while the national debt doubled, AGAIN. What makes either of you think that tax cuts won't make the deficit continue to increase exponentially?
18) Tell me about a time when you wanted to take a risk and were confronted publicly by powerful stakeholders who disagreed. What was at the situation, and what did you do? Did you go ahead? If so, how did you explain it?
19) Sometimes when people are new to a position, they learn about abuses and possibly illegal acts that occurred before they arrived. Has that happened to you? How did you deal with it? Did you make it public?
20) What do you find inconvenient about the confines of your own political party?
21) Over the past 30 years, America's "War on Drugs" has proceeded at a breakneck pace across all 50 states, and now extends southward into countries like Mexico and Colombia. It is exceptionally likely that every single person in this room (where the debate is being held) has had personal experiences with illegal drugs that may include personal use, watching friends use/abuse drugs, or seeing family members under the influence. Despite the fact that experience with illegal drugs remains prevalent if not universal, the law remains punitive, elicits cries of racial bias, and at times seems out of sync with the science. Using this situation as an example, how would you as president reconcile situations in which the law remains at odds with the experiences of the people?
22) Describe your understanding of the data supporting global climate change, then describe your position on the matter.
23) What is your greatest fear or concern for our country that can be prevented in the next five years of action?
24) Voters want bipartisan cooperation. In that spirit, state three bills proposed by a member of the opposition party currently pending in Congress that you will publicly support and/or sign into law if elected.
25) If you had to propose just one amendment to the Constitution, what would it be?
26) Both of your campaigns have focused almost exclusively on a handful of "swing states." This, of course, is because of the Electoral College. Do you support the Electoral College? Would you be in favor or a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College and accepting the popular vote? What problems/drawbacks do you see to shifting to a "popular vote" system for electing presidents?
27) In the event you are accused of malfeasance or wrongdoing during the campaign or in office, will you pledge to address the charges publicly, so citizens can see your response to the issues involved, and ensure all members of your staff, from Cabinet members on down, do as well?
28) How can you justify our military spending (greater than $680 billion for 2010) and engagements (U.S. troops in over 150 countries) given the lack of any sort of existential threat to the U.S.? Can you justify stationing U.S. troops in wealthy countries like Japan, Germany, and South Korea? Aren't those countries rich and responsible enough to manage their own defense?
29) Do you think that the office of the president has too much power?
30) Please describe the significance of the doctrine of stare decisis in Supreme Court jurisprudence. In so doing, please explain what factors justify reconsideration by the Court, and to what extent the recency of the underlying case law is relevant. Last, please describe specific cases that should, in your view, be reconsidered by the Court in the near future and why.
31) Who is the moral, political, or economic thinker who had the most impact on your views?
32) What do you believe are the long-term implications of an extended drone campaign within a country whom we have not declared war on, with regards to potential radicalization, democratic institutions, and future cooperation?