Presidential Debate Questions You Won’t Hear (But Should)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In a week, millions of Americans will fire up their ancient, quickly devaluing technology — televisions — to watch the Greatest Show on Earth, the 2016 presidential debates. As we watch, we should remember that the debates are run by a private organization heavily lobbied by the major TV networks. Because of its management, the Greatest Show on Earth is first and foremost just that — a show. There’s very little political or economic incentive for the debate moderators or the television networks that profit from the debates to ask detailed, boring policy questions that put people to sleep, or worse — change the channel.

That’s too bad. Those detailed, boring questions are the ones we desperately need, even if they’re not the ones we deserve. For the sake of pursuing a pipe-dream alternate universe where informing the American public actually matters, here are some questions I’d love answered by our two would-be presidents:

  1. The United States has been using the fifteen year old 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan as the legal basis for military action in Iraq and Syria against ISIS and other clandestine operations. Article I of the Constitution clearly places the power to declare war with Congress — not the executive branch. Do you believe that current U.S. military operations are legal and supported by the Constitution? If so, how? If not, as POTUS, would you go to Congress and ask for a new AUMF? Would you cease military operations if they don’t give you one?
  2. Do you believe that the NSA and other intelligence agencies have the right to examine Americans’ digital and telephone communications, including emails and phone records, without a warrant? Do you think that the secret FISA court, which issues surveillance warrants and does not have to disclose its decisions or the rationale behind them, is enough to satisfy the 4th amendment?
  3. Current CBO estimates predict that our national debt will hit 86% of GDP by 2026, with non-productive interest payments on the debt rising as a percentage of our total overall expenditures concurrently. Do you think the national debt is a problem? If not, why not? If so, how would you reduce it? Would your preferred policies (such as a “free” college tuition, or a massive expansion of the military) add to the debt? If not, how would you pay for them?
  4. Both of you have suggested that people on the terrorist watch list should be prohibited from buying guns. Since the list contains over one million people , and the government does not have to formally accuse you or inform you that you’re on the list, does a terror watch list ban adequately respect due process rights?
  5. Was the United States wrong to expand NATO into post-Soviet eastern European countries like Latvia and Estonia? Would you commit the U.S. military to a full scale war with Russia if Estonia were threatened by Russia and invoked Article V of the NATO charter, which requires all countries to come to the aid of one? What about if Russia maintains its proxy war in Ukraine, a non-NATO country?
  6. In November, California may vote to become the largest state yet to legalize recreational marijuana, but the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, in the same class as meth and heroin and above Schedule II drugs like Cocaine. Do you support maintaining marijuana as a Schedule I drug? If so, why? If not, should we consider legalizing marijuana use nationally?
  7. Specifically for Mrs. Clinton, you oppose the Hyde Amendment, which bans taxpayer funding for abortions. Millions of Americans, including practicing Catholics, believe abortion to be equivalent to murder. Is compelling them to fund abortions consistent with respect for religious liberty and freedom of conscience?
  8. Specifically for Mrs. Clinton, you have defended the U.S. military intervention in Libya to remove the dictator Muammar Gadaffi. Currently, Libya is being fought over by different warring factions. Arms from Libya continue to leak out into the broader North Africa region, and ISIS has been able to use the power vacuum to gain a foothold in the country. Do you believe Libya is better off today than before the U.S. intervention? If so, how? If not, does your experience with Libya change the way you think about U.S. foreign policy?
  9. Specifically for Mr. Trump, what are the detailed criteria by which you would judge a country “compromised” by terrorism and thus ineligible for immigration into the United States? Would U.S. citizens who travel to those countries still be allowed to return home afterwards?
  10. Specifically for Mr. Trump, you have advocated large import tariffs on Chinese and Mexican goods in order to avoid being “played like a fiddle” and “raped” economically by these countries. Many economists believe that large import tariffs would spark trade wars, harm U.S. exports, and drive up the price of many common household goods, including many purchased by lower and middle class Americans. Do you agree?