Just over a year ago I posted a list called “Nonpartisan Questions for Presidential Candidates.” What a year it has been since then! I have revised that original post and expanded it. I was reminded of this post when I read a story this morning indicating that as many as 100 million people would tune in to the first debate this evening.
We are a country that is uncomfortable in our own skin. We are at odds; there is powerful friction between us. We are wrestling with our identity to a degree that has at times driven thoughtful consideration of candidate positions and character under the wheel of the campaign bus. While the list of questions below may seem naive in the context of what is happening in this campaign, I stand by them.
In part, my desire to post my questions is a result of disappointment with the news media for failing to play its full and necessary role. It has too often defaulted to soundbites and a strange kind of pretend that it can play its vital part as the fourth estate through 140 character posts and gotcha video clips. As print journalism seems to be starving less because of access to quality reporting than because of lack of readership, we see coming to fruition the flaw of television and internet journalism, that is, it often prioritizes entertainment and partisan advocacy ahead of delivering news as accurately and completely as possible. With only few exceptions individual media outlets seek to grow, solidify, and sustain market share by working more to preach to the choir of their specific audience than to tell the story before them as truthfully as possible. As a result over time that audience becomes more extreme in its views and more righteous in its expression of them.
With this in mind, I have compiled a list of questions I would like the candidates to answer. What questions would you add to the list?
- What is your definition of the American Dream?
- What percentage of your income do you donate to causes other than political campaigns?
- What are you reading? What book has had the greatest impact on you?
- When did you and how have you reached out to someone or to some group with viewpoints different than your own?
- As president, which would you value more: the responsibility to represent the people who voted for you or the people of the United States?
- When have you gone against the majority in your own party?
- Give an example of when you have chosen the hard right over the easy wrong?
- What contribution do you most want to make during your presidency and what makes you think you can accomplish it?
- Imagine you can add or delete one amendment to the constitution: what would you delete or add?
- How do you spend your limited free time? (question suggested by a former student, John Kutteh, St. George’s Independent School Class of 2016)
- To whom do you go for good counsel?
- Describe a mistake you have made and reflect on how you would go about approaching the same situation differently now?
- What is a lesson you learned as a young person that has stayed with you?
- What is the most important lesson you have learned about yourself in the last five years?
- Imagine you can construct your cabinet from only historical figures–who do you put in the cabinet? Who is Secretary of State? Defense Secretary? Etc.