The Questions That Won’t Be Asked
in the Presidential Debate

September 30, 2004      

In tonight’s presidential debate between George Bush and John Kerry, not only will we get lame answers to the questions asked, but the questions themselves will be lame.

Thomas Pynchon said, “If they can get you to ask the wrong questions, they don’t care what the answers are.” And we can expect that the questions tonight will be the same old requests for government solutions to today’s social problems problems that, in almost every case, are the result of previous government solutions to social problems. So it doesn't really matter what the answers are.

If only just one of the questioners were free of the media mindset, we might get some truly compelling questions. After all, these candidates have said some of the silliest things imaginable for people who want to be President. They’ve left themselves wide open for pointed questions. Too bad they won’t get any.

The right questions wouldn’t make the candidates any more attractive as presidential possibilities, but at least the questions would require them to think up answers that aren’t already scripted in their playbooks.

Here are a few such questions . . . 

Smaller Government

Mr. Bush, you said in 2000, and now you’re repeating it, that the difference between you and your opponent is that you believe in smaller, limited government. But government has grown by nearly one third in just the past four years. You haven’t vetoed a single bill passed by your Republican Congress. Is this what you mean by limited government limited to whatever you want?

Mr. Kerry, every one of the proposals you’ve made to fix what you perceive as today’s problems has been in the direction of more government. Are you saying that only government can solve problems that government programs always deliver exactly as was promised that no government program has made things worse?

Humility

Mr. Bush, you said in 2000 that you wanted a humbler foreign policy than Mr. Clinton had. Then you told the rest of the world “You’re either for us or against us” meaning that any nation that didn’t follow your leadership was to be treated as an enemy. And you also said you didn’t believe in nation-building, but now you’re telling us you’re going to build democracies in the nations of the Middle East. Can you give us an example of your humbler foreign policy or explain how your dreams don’t constitute nation-building?

(If, by some miracle, this question is asked, George Bush probably will answer with one of his favorite slogans, “9/11 changed everything.” If so, the follow-up question should be . . . 

But the World Trade Center had already been bombed in 1993 a bombing engineered supposedly by the same people who engineered 9/11. And a couple hundred U.S. Marines were killed in a terror-bombing in Beirut in 1983. Terrorism has been a problem for decades. Don’t you really mean that “9/11 changed everything” only in the sense that it has given you the excuse to impose foreign and domestic policies that the American people would never have stood for before 9/11?

Mr. Kerry, today federal, state, and local governments spend well over half of all the health-care dollars spent in America. In addition, insurance companies spend another quarter of the health-care dollars only because of income tax policies. And yet only a very small minority of the American people are happy in this government-dominated health-care system. Doesn’t it seem decidedly not humble to suggest that you can make a situation made bad by government intrusion somehow better by expanding government intrusion?

Defying the American People

Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, every relevant poll of the past 15 years indicates that the American people overwhelmingly think that government is way too big. And yet neither of you tonight has proposed reducing the size of government in any way. Two presidential candidates who have proposed reducing government dramatically have been shut out of these debates. Do you think that’s fair to the American people?

Iraq

Mr. Bush, you’ve said over and over and over and over again that America and the world are safer without Saddam Hussein. And when the enormous toll of American and Iraqi deaths are pointed out to you, you say the deaths have been worth it in order to get rid of Hussein.

My question is this: how many deaths are worth one Hussein? A million? A hundred thousand? A thousand? One hundred? Suppose only two deaths had been necessary to eliminate Saddam Hussein. Would you have sacrificed those two lives if the lives were those of your daughters? Or are your daughters more important than the sons and daughters of the thousand families who have already sacrificed, with more to come?

Mr. Kerry, In 2002 you voted to give the President a blank check on Iraq to do with as he saw fit to go to war or not go to war, as he chose to believe what he was told about WMDs or demand to see fool-proof evidence first, as he decided to sacrifice thousands and thousands of Iraqi and American lives or not sacrifice thousands and thousands of Iraqi lives, as he saw fit.

Now you act as those he betrayed your trust. You’re whining to us that “it was the wrong war at the wrong time fought in the wrong way.” But you’re the one who enabled him to start that war.

Has this experience taught you anything about the purpose of the Constitution in limiting the power of the President, about Congress taking responsibility for decisions and not washing their hands of them like Pontius Pilate? Or can we assume that as President you will arrogate to yourself all the same unconstitutional powers that George Bush has confiscated for himself?

Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, for the past 60 years, our government has invaded and bombed foreign countries, propped up unpopular dictators who claimed to support the U.S., and bribed foreign countries to support a meddling U.S. foreign policy. No terrorists have claimed to hate U.S. democracy, freedom, or prosperity, but they have stated unequivocally their hatred of U.S. foreign policy. My question is this: Do you consider the 3,000 lives lost on 9/11 an acceptable price to pay to continue a meddling U.S. foreign policy?

And Finally . . . 

Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, has either of you ever read the Bill of Rights? If so, how do you square the Bill of Rights with your health-care and education programs, your support of the Patriot Act, your allowing the government to lock away and forget about people who have never been charged with a crime?