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Questioning the questions that dominate the presidential race

The 2008 presidential primary races seem to be filled with “Questions.” For instance, Obama’s “black enough” Question, Thompson’s laziness Question, Romney’s Mormon question, Giuliani’s family Question and, through it all, not a single valuable inquiry.

The first of these I came across in the papers was the Obama “black enough” Question. Apparently Obama is being pressured by minority rights activists who believe he somehow is not sufficiently black to represent their interests. It was not so long ago when this same accusation was leveled against former Secretary of State Colin Powell. But Powell had the good sense to ignore these accusations and continue to do the job for which he was responsible. Obama, on the other hand, alternates between berating his critics – claiming his upbringing does not interfere with his capacity for empathy – and spinning stories of how he is just like fellow African-Americans.

This was a heart-breaking story for me, as I genuinely liked Obama prior to this debacle. Before declaring his candidacy, he gave amazing speeches on how “There is not a black America and a white America, there is the United States of America.” He seemed like the candidate who could finally bury the hatchet on U.S. race relations. But a few months later, he has become more divisive than any of his counterparts.

While Obama represents the most visible of these ridiculous “Questions,” his is certainly not the only campaign coming under fire for all the wrong reasons.

Thompson, an admittedly late entrant, has been berated for “the laziness Question.” I would pose the argument that he is simply trying to be above the campaign hack-n-slash, presenting himself as the rational, virtuous candidate. Granted, I do not personally support him, but I do find it interesting that I have encountered a number of articles questioning his work ethic, and only one – buried in a later page – about his actual policy.

Turns out, Thompson has some remarkable ideas on tax policy. They are far too radical to be endorsed, but is it not a little scary such a dramatic stance (he wishes to completely remove federal income tax in favor of dramatically higher sales tax) gets lets attention than what time he gets out of bed on a given morning?

The “Questions” tagged to Obama and Thompson are in my opinion the worst, but similarly pointless nettles seem to haunt most of the campaigns. “Can Romney – as a Mormon – win the evangelical Christian vote?” “If Giuliani cannot keep his family united, how can he lead a country?”

While the Romney Question is (tragically) a real concern for Republicans, I have to wonder how someone can honestly believe that Giuliani’s marital status is somehow inherently indicative of his potential for leadership. If anyone wishes to contend that point, consider this: Would we assume, exclusively on the basis of marital problems, that a CEO or admiral somehow lacked leadership skills? The point is, even if I do not particularly admire a candidate’s personal life, I still understand that a family and a country are not exactly congruent.

So I try not to complain unless I feel I can offer some kind of solution. Here goes (disclaimer: this is mostly satirical):

First, ban all campaigns. Keep debates, primarily because they are the closest things we have to political gladiator matches, and we need some entertainment after all.

But here’s the gimmick: Starting a few weeks before the election, assign the candidates at random one evening where they go on Fox or CNN or whoever else wants to play along, and they are given half an hour or more for one question: What would you do as President of the United States of America?

OK, so I do not actually think we should ban campaigns – however tempting the thought may be – and I will consent that debates have very real academic value. The third statement, however, stands.

Here’s the deal: If we are going to elevate an individual to arguably the most powerful office in the world, I want to know what he or she will do with it. While I appreciate whether my president can “feel [my] pain” as former President Clinton might say, or whether he or she is a “God fearing man with a good heart and a spine of tempered steel” (as Zell Miller said at the Republican National Convention 2004 about President Bush), neither of those statements have any value if the individual in question lacks the intelligence and vision to back up those claims.

Herein lays the tragedy. We are so concerned with the Questions that we have no answer for the most important question of all.

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