Sunday, October 05, 2008

Toughen up the questions

It was recently reported that one of the vice-presidential candidates could not name a single Supreme Court decision she disagreed with other than Roe v. Wade. This got me to thinking.

So far debate moderators Gwen Ifill and Jim Lehrer have asked questions such as, “Who do you think was at fault for the sub-prime lending meltdown?” or “What promises have you and your campaigns made to the American people that you're not going to be able to keep?” These questions are too broad and easily avoidable.

What’s the use in asking these vague, sweeping questions about what the candidates would do once elected? What difference does it make? They’re going to break their promises anyway. So come on Gwen, come on Jim. You can ask tougher questions than that. My tenth grade history teacher could and did, and the only wounds my classmates and I sustained were temporary ones to our pride.

So rather than ask the candidates what they’ll do, why don’t we ask them what they know, on a wide variety of topics. Let’s focus on their knowledge of the past before we ask them to predict the future. After all, the past is all we have: the future is unknown, and the present is only a fleeting instant. Your reading of the first part of this post is already in the past.

Here is my proposed list of ten questions for the next presidential candidates debate (no wireless devices and no lifelines, please):

1) Name the nine Supreme Court justices and provide a brief biography of each.
2) An in-depth knowledge of our neighbors being necessary for the maintenance of a free state, who are your three favorite Russian authors/playwrights and how has their work informed the cultural heritage and collective unconscious of the Russian people?
3) How and when did Oklahoma become a state?
4) Compare and contrast the hotly contested US presidential elections of 1876 and 2000, including an explanation of how they were resolved and your conclusions, if any, about how our system for electing the president could be amended.
5) Who is the prime minister of Hungary?
6) Cite five of the [insert astronomical number] times your opponent has voted in favor of increasing taxes, including the names of the bills, their main provisions, and the approximate dates of the votes.
7) In studying the current financial crisis, what lessons can be drawn from the panics of 1837, 1873 and 1907 and the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930? Choose any two, giving specific examples from each period.
8) What are the main provisions of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and how do they affect the lives of Americans today?
9) Summarize the primary scientific accomplishments and contributions of a) Niels Bohr, b) Linus Pauling, c) Marie Curie, d) Christiaan Barnard. (Choose any two.)
10) Which three 20th century economists do you most admire and why? In your answer, include an explanation of their economic theories and how you would use them if elected.

Now I suppose none of the candidates would excel on 100% of these questions, but wouldn’t it be a good way to separate the wheat from the chaff? Of course, we’d need a new slate of questions for each debate, lest the candidates study in the interim, but that shouldn’t be too difficult, either. Subjects abound!

Karl Rove, one of the great sages of our time, said in a recent Newsweek article that Ronald Reagan was a better leader than Woodrow Wilson, even though Wilson could have "given you 100 Supreme Court decisions he disagreed with whether you wanted to listen or not." Well, clearly Karl would not have wanted to listen, and the disdain for the lessons of history that he and his cronies have shown over the past eight years is what got us into the present mess. Oh, and personally, I think that Ronald Reagan was no better leader than Gary Cooper or John Wayne. He just had a larger stage on which to act.

Now I hear some people ask, “But what one person can answer all those questions? I bet only 1% of the population could.” This is exactly my point. I want the president of my country to be from that 1%. I don't want him or her to be a "regular guy" just like me. I don’t want an “elitist”, but I want someone from the country’s elite. Someone who's smarter than I am, who's better educated, more experienced, more dynamic, more courageous, more diplomatic, more articulate, more inspiring, more visionary, more compassionate, more able to multi-task, to analyze and to make the right decisions. It's a tall order, one I don't think an ordinary person can fill. But being president of the United States isn’t an ordinary job.

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At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article suggests a question about "summarizing the scientific accomplishments of Neils Bohr, Linus Pauling, Marie Curie, etc. Marie Curie and Neils Bohr of course -- but Linus Pauling?? According to Anthony Serafini in his classic biography of Pauling,LINUS PAULING: A MAN AND HIS SCIENCE, there were virtually none. He makes the case that "discoveries" like the alpha-helix, his work on psychiatry, etc. were really stolen from other scientists.
C'mon guys someone like Richard Feynman or Judah Folkman of Harvard Medical School would be a much better choice.

At 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Que du bonheur de te lire .....
Très agréable moment avec ma tasse de thé, même si c'est samedi matin (7h30) et que Will m'a reveillé !!!


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