Some classic Springsteen lyrics have been blaring in my bean lately: “Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on. Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on.”
In the tsunami of news coverage of the presidential race, there are only three primary buckets of questions being asked: 1) What’s your position on issue X; 2) How do you respond to accusation Y; and 3) How will X and/or Y impact the race? Those are very valid questions. But we’ve got that ground pretty well covered.
History tells us we can’t know what specific issues the next President will face. So I want to hear the candidates think through problems. I want to understand how they process puzzles. And I want to hear new questions so they can’t respond with their old canned answers. Examples:
• What criteria would you use to decide what federal spending you’d cut and what you’d increase? Why those criteria?
• Which federal program do you think would yield the most return-on-investment over the next fifty years? How did you come to that conclusion?
• How will you structure your decisionmaking circles to make sure your party’s viewpoints are challenged with other viewpoints, and the best available evidence?
• If you became convinced after you became President that something you said as a candidate turned out to be wrong, how would you handle that?
• Which is closer to the truth and why? 1) People elected me to execute the will of the majority of the people or 2) People elected me to use my independent judgment about what is right for the nation? How would you manage the tension between those two democratic values?
• How will you spark sincere bipartisan partnerships with legislators when you, as the head of your party, will be simultaneously working to get that person fired (i.e. campaign against their party and them)?
• Let’s suppose you face a policy that would lead to ten million Americans having their civil liberties eroded. But that same policy would save a American thousand lives, because it would prevent a terrorist attack. What would you do? Why?
• What’s the most under-discussed issue in the presidential race? Why?
• There are lots of foreign leaders that are anti-democratic, oppressive and working against America’s interests. What criteria do you use to decide which ones to wage war against, and which ones to hold our noses and look the other way?
• Rumsfeld and some other respected military leaders say we need small, flexible and high-tech military. But some Generals say we still need a heavier, bigger fighting force. How do you determine which side is right?
Obviously my cable news program wouldn’t get very high ratings. I thought about throwing in “boxers or briefs,” but it strikes me this is an awkward year for that one.
These aren’t the most brilliant questions ever written. But I find myself hungry for queries that haven’t been asked, with the hope that they might trip candidates into a brief moment of spontaneity that would provide a sub-veneer glimpse.
How about it Crowd? Are the girls and boys on the bus missing anything this year?