Moral Low Ground

US Government

10 Questions Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Should — But Won’t — Be Asked in the 2016 Presidential Debates

(Photo: Moral Low Ground composite from Gage Skidmore/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo: Moral Low Ground composite from Gage Skidmore/Flickr Creative Commons)

On October 2, 1988, the League of Women Voters, which had sponsored presidential debates in the three previous campaigns, voted unanimously to pull out of the debate business. Explaining the decision, LWV President Nancy Neuman said the debate format would “perpetrate a fraud on the American voter” and that her organization, which was founded nearly a century ago to help women engage in politics after they won the right to vote, would not “become an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

“It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions,” Neuman said at the time. LWV was particularly incensed by the Democrats’ and Republicans’ demands that they control the selection of moderators, questions, audience and press access. “Americans deserve to see and hear the men who would be president face each other in a debate on the hard and complex issues critical to our progress into the next century,” Neuman explained.

Fast-forward to 2016 and nothing has changed. The Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-profit corporation bankrolled by some of the country’s biggest corporations and most powerful lobby groups and law firms, has sponsored every presidential debate since 1988. CPD, whose mission statement asserts its goal is to “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners,” has established arbitrary polling criteria that exclude third-party candidates from participation, effectively silencing alternatives to what critics call “two-party tyranny” and flouting the will of the American people, who clearly want to see Jill Stein and Gary Johnson take the debate stage with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The concerns over the content and quality of debate questions raised by the LWV a generation ago remain as valid today as they were in 1988. Candidates are rarely asked tough questions and certain topics seem completely off limits. Petty personal attacks and other ratings boosters reign supreme over substantive probing of candidates’ positions on some of the most pressing problems facing the nation and the world. The whole process seems designed to ensure the perpetuation of what some observers have called the “Republicrat duopoly.”

What kind of questions would be asked in a truly honest and open debate? Here are 10 questions — five each for Clinton and Trump — Moral Low Ground believes should, but probably won’t, be asked by moderators at this year’s presidential debates.

Hillary Clinton

1- Never-Ending War: “Madam secretary, you voted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. You were instrumental in pushing President Obama to wage war in Libya. You also advocate a more aggressive military campaign against Islamic State, including a no-fly zone that could bring the United States into conflict with Russia in Syria. Thousands of American men and women have died fighting the 15-year-long war against terrorism — the longest war in American history — and some experts estimate more than 1 million Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Libyans and Syrians have been killed as a result. What is your endgame in the war against terrorism? Do you really believe more bombs and bullets can defeat Islamist terrorism? Why not, as the old John Lennon song goes, give peace a chance?”

2- Support for Child Soldiers: “Madam secretary, throughout your careers in both the public and private sectors, you have earned a reputation as a protector of children. However, as secretary of state you repeatedly signed off on presidential waivers exempting certain favored nations from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA), which bans US military aid to countries whose armies enslave, conscript or employ children, some as young as eight years old. These countries include some of the world’s worst child soldier violators, including Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Libya, South Sudan and Yemen. The Obama administration says waiving the military aid ban to child soldier armies is in the “national interest” of the United States. Please explain what ‘national interest’ justifies arming militaries that enslave children, and as president, will you continue to grant CSPA waivers?”

3- Support for Dictators: “Madam secretary, you recently called Russian President Vladimir Putin a ‘dictator’ and you’ve said that ‘the Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted’ while demanding ‘free, fair, transparent elections’ and ‘accountable’ leaders in Russia. Meanwhile, you’ve embraced far more brutal, far more murderous dictators and regimes around the world — too many to mention here, but I will mention Saudi Arabia, a fundamentalist theocratic monarchy where women cannot travel without a male guardian’s permission or even drive a car, where gays, adulterers and people who reject Islam are publicly beheaded and where senior regime officials have ties to Islamist terrorism. And where you visited in 2010 and praised the king, who decrees that women cannot even visit a doctor without permission from a male guardian, for his commitment to women and spoke out against American media ‘mischaracterization’ of Saudi women. Madam secretary, how would you respond to those who call this hypocritical?”

4- Campaign Finance: “Madam secretary, you have identified campaign finance reform as something you ‘will fight for,’ asserting that ‘we have to end the flood of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political system, and drowning out the voices of too many everyday Americans.’ You have called for the repeal of Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision affirming corporations are people with a constitutional right to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing the outcome of American elections. Yet unlike your Democratic primary rival Bernie Sanders, you have a super PAC that can accept unlimited special interest contributions, and you have reportedly exploited a loophole allowing your campaign to coordinate efforts with your super PAC in seeming contravention of FEC rules. How do you reconcile your professed championship of campaign finance reform with your apparent embrace of some of the worst consequences of Citizens United?

5- Death Penalty: “Madam secretary, you call yourself a progressive. Yet you support the death penalty, even though you say you’d ‘breathe a sigh of relief’ if it were abolished. The United States is the only nation in the Western world that still practices capital punishment. Even conservative leaders in other Western nations have long rejected the death penalty. How can you call yourself a progressive if you still believe in executing human beings, even as every Western nation and an increasing number of US states have abolished the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment?”

Donald Trump

1- Lies, Lies, Lies: “Mr. Trump, Your opponent has called for debate moderators to fact-check candidate statements in the wake of Matt Lauer’s failure to correct multiple lies you told during last month’s Commander-In-Chief forum. But the networks airing the upcoming presidential debates have rejected on-screen fact-checking. The Clinton campaign is not happy about this decision. Do you support debate moderators correcting candidates’ lies in real-time? And with the non-partisan fact checking site PolitiFact rating fully 84 percent of your statements as ‘half true, mostly false, false or pants-on-fire lies,’ and naming your aggregate statements as its ‘2015 Lie of the Year,’ how can we believe anything you say?”

2- Racist Endorsements and Hate Crime Inspiration: “Mr. Trump, you have received, and have sometimes failed to repudiate, the endorsements of racists and bigots including the chairman of the American Nazi Party and former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke. You, your words and your policies have also been cited as the inspiration for numerous hate crimes across America.  Why do you think so many racists and bigots have endorsed you? Will you here and now repudiate all such endorsements? And what, specifically, about your message do you think is inspiring so many hate crimes?”

3- Climate Change: “Mr. Trump, you have said you believe climate change is a ‘Chinese hoax.’ Yet you’re seeking to build a wall —no, not that wall — to save your Irish golf resort from rising sea levels that 97 percent of climatologists around the world say are due to human-caused climate change. Do you really believe climate change, which the Pentagon has identified as a serious national security threat that could exacerbate terrorism, is a ‘hoax’ in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus, and your own actions to protect your property from the effects of climate change?”

4- Immigration Hypocrisy: “Mr. Trump, your hardline, ‘America first’ immigration policy is arguably the centerpiece of your campaign and the reason why countless millions of Americans support you. However, you use an employment agency that specializes in hiring foreign workers, your modeling agency has been accused of hiring undocumented immigrants and you are seeking to hire scores of foreign workers to staff your Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. There are nearly half a million unemployed people in Florida. How do you explain the discrepancy between your words and your actions on this topic, since you often say that under a Trump administration ‘the American people will come first?'”

5- Israel-Palestine: “Mr. Trump, you have said as recently as this February that if elected president you would be ‘neutral’ in your approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict. But when addressing AIPAC, the nation’s most powerful Zionist lobby, in March, you vowed to stand unconditionally with Israel, even as it faces growing international condemnation and isolation over its illegal occupation and settlement construction in Palestine and its treatment of Palestinian people, which prominent critics have called ‘apartheid’ and even ‘ethnic cleansing.’ What, or who, prompted you to change your stance on Israel, and if elected, will you pressure Israel to act in accordance with international law and end its occupation and settler colonization of Palestine?”

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