The Commission on Presidential Debates has just released the topics of the first presidential debate at New York's Hofstra University this coming Monday night. They are: "achieving prosperity," "securing America" and "America's direction." Yeah, those are strange ways of saying, "the economy," "the war on terror," and "America's future," but we can work with that. But based on this commission's control of all the general election presidential debates since 1988, it's not clear the American people can really be confident that the debates will feature any important and challenging questions to either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
The questions below are crucial because they would need to be asked regardless of who was running for president. These kinds of less partisan, less "gotcha" like questions are not only important for the democratic process, they're essential for the future of the debate commission itself. The commission needs to do better this election cycle after 2012's embarrassing incident where moderator Candy Crowley overstepped her bounds and fumbled a fact-check of a Mitt Romney statement. It needs to do better in light of documented reports that some members of the so-called bi-partisan commission have donated to Clinton but none have donated to Trump, (and why are members of this commission allowed to make donations at all?) And it needs to do better in light of Trump's fair question about whether a moderator is needed at all.
So let's help first debate moderator Lester Holt get a head start with five questions he should ask both candidates. I'll write them like a script that Holt should read word for word:
1) Will any of your economic proposals make a difference if the march of automation continues? From self-driving cars to touch screen ordering kiosks at restaurants, fewer and fewer human beings are needed to perform work. How can you or anyone stop this trend from permanently destroying millions of jobs?
2) Income inequality has become a top issue for critics from all political persuasions who want the government to balance the economic playing field. Almost everyone would agree the government has some moral obligation to fight poverty, but is it the government's job to try to ensure equality of economic outcomes with policies like an imposed $15 minimum wage?
3) As we convene for this debate, the U.S. has been conducting sporadic and restricted aerial bombing attacks against ISIS and other terror targets in Libya, Syria, and Iraq for several years. Before we send more American soldiers and pilots into harm's way, do you have a plan for a more decisive victory in the Middle East?
4) On the home front, the last 12 months have seen a decided spike in domestic terror attacks, from San Bernardino to Orlando, to the recent bombings in Manhattan and New Jersey. Is this the "new normal" Americans will have to tolerate with Jihadist terror, or do you have a plan to root out homegrown terrorists and make these incidents as rare as they were before 9/11?
5) Every major poll shows an overwhelming majority of the voters believe the country is going in the wrong direction. What is the single biggest mistake President Obama made and how would you change it?
It's debatable just how much the debates will change any voters' minds. But they are likely to help some Trump and Clinton supporters come out more publicly for their candidates and use some moment in the debate as an excuse to do so. Conversely, something that happens in the debates could discourage potential voters from speaking out or even voting at all. But if the above questions are asked, we actually might get an idea about what kind of president these candidates would make and not just some kind of moment or stumble that gooses the polls.
Wouldn't that be nice?