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Debate Questions That Schieffer Should Ask

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Should women be drafted or serve in combat? Should English be the nation’s official language? Should judges interpret laws according to the Constitution or contemporary values? Should there be any restrictions on abortion? Does the Second Amendment guarantee the right of individual citizens to own guns? Should marriage law be defined by the courts or by legislatures?

These are some of the questions that have not yet been raised in the presidential debates and which could prove helpful in revealing the candidates’ character and worldviews.

Presidents often have greater influence on social policy and cultural values than they have on economic policy, so Obama’s and McCain’s positions on moral issues matter.

Their character matters as well.  How do they respond under pressure?  Will they stick by their principles at the risk of alienating some voters, or will they fudge their answers?  As CMI determined in our recent special report, “Character” the Most Important Issue in the Presidential Primary Debates, the questions that reveal the most about character are those that put candidates on the spot.  The most useful questions, the “hardballs,” bring up sensitive policy issues or force candidates to address unflattering background information.

The responsibility for teasing out the candidates’ values and character in Wednesday’s concluding presidential debate falls on debate moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS.  Given the Face the Nation host’s biased performance during the campaign thus far, the prospect of Schieffer asking the questions is hardly reassuring.

Reporting on the “Palin bounce” in the polls following the GOP convention in September, Schieffer said GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is McCain’s “Geritol.”  Schieffer was only warming up.

During Face the Nation on Sunday, Oct. 6, Schieffer described the McCain campaign as “down and dirty.”  He called Palin an “attack dog” for saying Obama “palled around with terrorists.” Schieffer even hurled the nastiest insult in the liberal media lexicon, comparing McCain/Palin to Nixon/Agnew.  He’s made no comparable criticism of the Obama campaign.

Two days later, during Tuesday’s CBS Early Show, reporter Jeff Glor delivered a “news report” charging the McCain campaign with mudslinging.  Anchor Harry Smith then asked Schieffer about the “rancorous tone of this campaign.” Schieffer replied not by balancing Glor’s one-sided diatribe, but by piling on:  “…[C]learly the McCain campaign has made a conscious decision to go after Obama.  They want to change the subject from the economy.  They’re going to go after Obama’s character and somehow try to paint him as different than other people.” 

Schieffer’s pro-Obama tilt is obvious, but his record doesn’t necessarily predict how he will perform during the upcoming debate.  The domestic policy discussion is the best setting for personal values to rise to the surface.  Will Schieffer raise thorny questions like abortion, unsavory associations, and doubts about patriotism, even if the answers threaten to “paint Obama as different than other people?” 

We expect that throwing hardballs, especially at Obama, will be difficult for Schieffer, so as a courtesy we’re suggesting some questions he ought to ask the candidates. 

Abortion:  Sen. McCain, you describe yourself as pro-life.  Sen. Obama, you describe yourself as pro-choice, but during this campaign you have suggested you would like to reduce the number of abortions.  Do you both agree that one of the best ways to reduce the number of abortions, at least among young girls, is to require parental notification?  Do you believe parents should have the right to decide whether their minor daughters can have abortions?  Also, do you believe infants that survive botched abortions should automatically receive emergency medical attention?

Background:  Sen. McCain, you spent your young adult years in the Navy.  Sen. Obama, you were a “community organizer” working for progressive organizations in Chicago.  How did your youthful job responsibilities prepare you to be President?

Dubious Associates: Sen. McCain, you received thousands of dollars in contributions from convicted banker Charles Keating.  Sen. Obama, you received thousands of dollars in contributions from convicted political wheeler-dealer Tony Rezko.  Could you both explain the nature of your relationships with these men?

Education: Do you believe that parents should have a choice in where they send their children to schools, via tax credits or vouchers? Should the schools be allowed to teach grade school kids to accept homosexuality by using textbooks such as Heather Has Two Mommies?  Should parents be required to opt in their children to such classes?

Freedom of Speech:  Do you support or oppose re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine?

Guns:  Do you agree with the Supreme Court that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to keep and bear arms?  What will you do to uphold the Supreme Court’s decision?

Immigration:  Should America reassert control of the borders in order to prevent illegal immigration?  Should illegal immigrants be permitted to receive welfare or unemployment benefits?  Should Congress declare English to be the official language, and require America to conduct all government business in English?

Judiciary:  The Connecticut Supreme Court just ordered the state to legalize same-sex marriage.  Do courts have the authority to redefine marriage, or should contentious social issues be decided by the people, through their legislatures?  Will you appoint judges who will uphold the original intent of the Constitution, or judges who believe the document should be interpreted according to contemporary values? 

Military readiness: Do you support overturning the 1993 law barring military service by homosexuals?  Do you favor having women sign up for Selective Service? Do you favor sending women into combat?

Patriotism:  The United States is currently the most powerful nation on the planet.  Do you believe America’s preeminence has been good or bad for the rest of the world?  Do you believe America should preserve its status as the world’s leader?

Religious Liberty: A group of pastors recently defied the IRS by preaching about politics in their pulpits, challenging a rule inserted into the IRS code in 1953.  Should churches be permitted to preach about elections and candidates without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status? 

Same-Sex Marriage:  Do you support or oppose Proposition 8, the ballot measure that would enshrine in California’s Constitution the traditional understanding of marriage as one man and one woman? Do you support the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for all federal purposes and allows states to define their own policies, or would you like it reversed?

Voter Fraud: Given the widespread incidence of irregularities in voter registration this year, and warning of likely fraud in swing states like Ohio, would you agree that voters should be required to present photo ID at the polls?

The media have given short shrift to social issues during this presidential campaign, so the public remains woefully ignorant about the candidates’ stands on these crucial issues.  Let’s hope Bob Schieffer doesn’t waste his golden opportunity to fill in the gaps.  

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