Town Hall Debate: what would your one question be?


Update: I’ve written some specific reflections on the debate last night.

Tuesday was the second Presidential Debate of the 2012 election. We’ve had one Presidential and one Vice-Presidential Debate so far, both of which were traditional debate formats. This debate, though, was a “Town Hall“-style debate in which the candidates walked freely and spoke to a small studio audience that encircled them as they took their questions directly from audience members. They did not know the questions beforehand, but as the years have gone on, the Debate Commission has limited both the ability to have back-and-forth exchanges with the audience members as well as the follow-up role of the moderator, giving them far more space to dance around the question with no accountability (these changes were put in place after Clinton devastated Bush in this exchange in 1992).

This got me thinking: what if I was there, and I got one shot to ask them one question. I’ve had my fair share of complaints about both candidates (and their running mates), so boiling all of this down to one question that would both be difficult for them politicize and address the most issues I’m concerned about was difficult, but this is what I came up with:

Mr. President and Governor: as a social worker, I’m taught that the goals I make with my clients should be S.M.A.R.T. goals: Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Using this criteria, could each of you, in terms that are not cliched, rhetorical, or abstract, tell me what the goals of the War on Terror are, and what would represent the end and accomplishment of that War? Thank you.

What do you think would be their answers to this question? What would be your question? (And how do you think they’d answer?) Sound off in the comments below, and tune in at 9pm tonight for the debate.

[image credit: AP photo, from an article at The American Prospect]

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81 thoughts on “Town Hall Debate: what would your one question be?

  1. I would ask how they plan to address the issues of poverty, violence, and loss of culture on Native American reservations, whether they plan to extend long overdue water rights to the people living on these lands, and whether they intend to ever uphold a single treaty that was signed by the US government with regard to them.

    I wouldn’t expect an answer.

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  2. I would ask about the freedom of the internet and why the government is infringing these rights and how they feel about the ATT deal with the MPAA and the RIAA.
    The answer I’m sure would be a bunch of political mumbo jumbo that boils down to this, The MPAA and the RIAA are big campaign contributors. We must abide their wills.

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  3. I think the well-being of humans all around would spark too many questions for me to ask. Both parties have that in mind, but I’m not sure who makes it their mission more. I’d love to ask them both what they would do to improve the life of the average person, be it crack down on violence or provide shelter for the homeless. Great post though! And congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

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  4. I would probably ask, “Mr. President and Governor Romney, considering the amount of gun violence that went on this summer, won’t you rethink your stances on gun control and vote for stricter regulation, at least of military-grade weaponry?” That’s something I’d like the candidates to visit again.

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  5. Congrats on being the FP. Great post, great question and challenge (if you will). I would love to ask them if they can tell me, at the end of the day, if they are ever able go to bed with a clear conscience and light heart. If not, why? THAT answer I would pay money to hear.

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  6. I really have to admit that my question to both candidates would be, “Why do your respective parties still refuse to allow a third party candidate to participate in these debates?”

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  7. “You both talk a lot about the middle class, but both of you also claim an affinity for Jesus. Jesus’ main concern was for the poor. How does your platform benefit the neediest Americans?”

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    • Oh how I wish this was actually asked! I would love to hear their answers. Although Obama would probably say that he increased social spending (which he did) and Romney would probably talk about how he wants to pull people out of poverty by getting the economy running again. I don’t think this actually answers the question, but it makes Republicans happy. They sort of answer these questions in these video exchanges: http://circleofprotection.us/

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  8. Congratulations on being FP! This is a great idea. I can’t think of a specific politically related question, but I’d really like to ask them something basic like “Do you like grilled cheese sandwiches” and tell them I only want a yes or no answer. I doubt they could do it 🙂

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  9. I would ask “Why should I pay into Social Security when I know I ain’t getting a dime of that shit? I love my grandparents and I would pay their social security but it’s bullshit and that shit cray.”

    I thought long and hard about the wording of my question.

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  10. Why do they do any of these?
    1. While one man talks, the other man laughs uncontrollably as if he is replaying every episode of Seinfeld in his head.
    2. They always act like they are writing important shit on paper while the other guy talks…I betcha they are drawing pictures of boobies!
    3.They throw out countless crazy numbers and calculations. Did you know average American person has a 4.3 friends on Welfare? How in sam hell can you have a .3 friend?
    4.The debate questions are never colorful…maybe ask the candidates if a special needs kid is kicking your chair during Frankenweenie, can you then call him out? Lets see some true colors.
    5.They love to slow sip water as if it’s a finely aged whiskey

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    • You’re right. I was trying to capture some nuance by implying the phrase “using this [set of] criteria”. Because it is one principle (SMART) with multiple parts, I was trying to capture that in a single phrase. I wouldn’t want to force them to have to get bogged down into going through each letter, but I wanted them to appeal to the principle. I would want to give them the freedom to appeal to the idea or the parts, either one. But…you’re still right. Thanks for commenting and welcome to the blog!

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  11. i would ask why they were unwilling or unable to answer any of the questions they were actually asked at the debate.

    the response i would expect would be:
    1. thanking me for the question
    2. change the subject
    3. attack the other guy
    4. interrupted by the other guy
    5. token insincerity about relating to or caring deeply for the average citizen
    6. ending 90 seconds after the response clock had ran out of time.

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    • Well, I think Obama would say, “look at the Lilly Ledbetter Law, the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, my tax proposal, the health care law, the increases in social spending, the stimulus, etc.” I think Romney would go on some sort of “I love 100% of Americans” rant like he did at the end of the debat last night, ans mention ways he helped people in Massachusetts while he was governor. If that’s what they said, would you feel like that was a satisfactory answer? Why or why not? Thanks for commenting and welcome to the blog!

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      • I don’t think this answer would be satisfactory simply because if you care about something…you can see the passion when those people talk. And that is what I would be looking for in these people rather than their policy and things like that..

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  12. I would ask …why is it ok to adjust our medical coverges but not adjust the coverages of the goverment? Why are so many former senate and congressman taken care of after their terms? Why does middle America have to support these people and their families while they are doing nothing for us?

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    • I absolutely agree with what you’re saying. Most politicians become even MORE wealthy after they leave Congress than while they’re in. They don’t need out help. BUT, I know some people would point out just how small of a cost this is to the government, and they’d also probably bring up our veterans. Veterans technically aren’t doing anything else for us any more, and yet tax dollars are spent caring for them long after they come home. WOuld you also challenge that? I don’t konw the answer, but would love your thoughts. Thanks for commenting and welcome to the blog!

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  13. I love the question, from one social worker to another. The answer? Probably something like, “Well, Mr. (insert other person’s name here), would blah blah blah.” or perhaps, Mr. Romney would most likely find a way to insert some sort of policy HE implemented in Massachusetts into the answer. I personally loved the question at the end of the debate. Because who says they are going to do what doesn’t matter a whole lot. Reason? Because the Presidency is only going to be able to perform within the boundaries and cooperation given by Congress (look at all the battles and obstacles the last 4 years). However, the man, the person, the beliefs tell you WHO you are getting. It tells you if they will stand and fight, crumble under pressure, have integrity, etc. Funny though, I don’t think either candidate answered the question, especially not under the stipulations given by the author

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    • I absolutely agree. I do think it’s funny, however, how much we put on the President when, as the last four years have shown, no matter WHO the President is, it’s the Congress that makes or breaks legislation–not the President. And that’s exactly how the Founders intended it. Thanks for commenting and welcome to the blog!

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  14. Great post. And congrats on being Freshly Pressed. I think I would ask something along the lines of “Congress has seemed paralyzed in recent past and unable to make any progress on the critical issues facing our country today. Some of the problem seems to lie in the overuse and misuse of the filibuster in the Senate. What do you plan to do to ensure that Congress is able to more effectively move issues forward.” Or perhaps a question about Citizzens United and the role of money in politics. Great question, great post! Thanks for making me think!

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    • This question was asked in the first debate. Obama said “it’s the Republicans fault! I’ve been trying!” and Romney said “I worked with people from both sides of the aisle back in Massachusetts, and I’ll do it again”. But, as we both know, those are both non-answers. Is there a way you’d phrase the question that could force them into a little more of a answer, you think? Thanks for commenting and welcome to the blog!

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      • I don’t remember that specific one from the first debate, but am glad Lehrer asked. I don’t remember him speaking much! 😉 Although I do remember the across the aisle kumbaya speech from Romney. But to me this isn’t about working across the aisle. I think you need to call out the structural problem and continue to push when they give evasive answers. Clearly, this has caused a lot of unnecessary gridlock. I wish someone would take some leadership and do something about it.

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      • It would probably be something like: Well of course business and commerce is of the utmost importance to the security and prosperity of our nation. We certainly have business interest at home and abroad and we will always work to help those businesses prosper. But we will never put the interests of a corporation above the interest of the American people.
        It would probably be something like that. In the meanwhile we are sending troops to Kuwait to guard the oil fields that we supposedly have no interest in.

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  15. I’m not exactly sure what my question would be, but I hope I could ask it more intelligibly than some in the town hall last night. I’m sure they were nervous, but reading monosyllabically from cue cards or worse yet, forgetting what to say and having to pull out cue cards, was a little disappointing.

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  16. I saw the debate yesterday and was amazed at how both parties did. I mean Obama and Romney both could have done much better. They just kept dodging specifics and going after the other persons history. The main question i would ask is why cant we setup a program to give incentives to property owners that lease commercial offices and retails stores to the public sector. Now here me out, if we had an incentive to lower the lease pricing every month, we would have less vacant commercial properties and those properties would obviously create more jobs because small business does produce jobs. In return we would have vacant building being filled with tenants at a lower rate, and the creation of jobs. Just my two cents

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  17. Although Obama isn’t a great debater (and seems to dodge questions as well), watching Romney on stage just makes me sick to my stomach, half because he spews so many lies and half because he is unlikable and has shown that he doesn’t really care about people. I really like the question you asked.

    I think I would ask about social justice issues, what each of them plans on doing about them.

    Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

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  18. Pingback: A Presidential Debate Debrief {#3} | the long way home

  19. I think WW3 is a definite if Romney wins in November. My question would be
    “Without counting to some useless number, can you tell me how you feel about America?” I also would maybe throw in a question about Polygamy and Kenya, oh and make the debate a “strap match” where both candidates have to be strapped to each other by a 3 foot rop for the entire debate!

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  20. hi Paul – congrats on the FP! I would definitely ask them what they propose to do about climate change, and how fast will they act? I think the denial around this issue is nothing short of criminal. It absolutely amazes me that none of the politicos are talking about it, whereas regular folks are talking about the fact that we had *no* winter last year, floods, droughts, severe storms, etc. My farming friends in particular are in shock. It’s precisely what the scientists predicted. All this talk about the role of government – if that isn’t a government role, I don’t know what is.

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  21. I’m late but oh well. I would ask why neither candidate is honest about our post-modern economy. Why they act as though well-paying jobs of a sufficient quality will ever be created in the future unless we make drastic changes to how we view and construct the economy and how we view each other as humans. Why won’t they admit we are in a post-Fordist nation and automation is the future of very limited manufacturing.

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  22. Pingback: Are Debates Even Worth It? - The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

  23. Hi Paul! Personally I wouldn’t bother. I’ve learned that politicians are taught how to evade questions, so the chances of getting an answer that even resembles pertaining to my question are slim to none. Kinda like how Romney answered the gun violence question by talking about single parenthood, or Obama talked about Libya by talking about accountability.

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  24. I suspect that Obama would evade the question while Romney would spout promised that he probably could not deliver–like his, “During my presidency, I will create 12 million jobs.” Really? Then he goes after Obama by saying the government does not create jobs and he says it several times.

    The truth is that the government does not create jobs outside of government so Romney’s promise of 12 million jobs is malarkey. In fact, history shows that the average number of jobs created under Republicans since the 1950s is about 1,000,000 a year compared to an average of 2,000,000 annually for Democratic presidents.

    See how easy it is to avoid the question?

    Seriously, details on the War on Terror might be something that no president could go into detail on due to the danger of spilling information that might be of advantage to the enemy. The best any president could do with that question would be to tell us what we already know that is common knowledge.

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  25. Well Paul,

    Congrats on freshly pressed.

    It might go something like this:

    Mr. President and Governor Romney, as a Disabled American Veteran, I love our soldiers. Oover the last 4 years American warriors have been asked to risk their lives in wars around the world.

    When will you declassify the wars our soldiers are involved in?

    Should secret wars and treaties ever be a part of a democratic country?

    Why should the next 8 generations pay for welfare and wars today?

    By what specific day will you guarantee our soldiers will be out of each of the many war zones. In particular, Afghanistan and Iraq?

    How will you guarantee our returning soldiers will have jobs.

    Regards,

    Your patriotic ghost.

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  26. And I hate to answer for them, but do you really think they would address the question or dodge it?

    I doubt Romney is aware yet of the wars around the world, and I know Obama would not admit to them, or to sending combat soldiers BACK INTO IRAQ.

    😉

    The advantages of flying on a plane full of soldiers returning from Iraq is to ask them what you asked.

    The answer I got was simple, “We are not told what the objective is. We are tired. We have good morale. We do not know when the wars will end. I cannot tell you where I was last year. But, my duties included combat operations.

    And yes. I have orders to RETURN TO IRAQ AFTER CHRISTMAS.”

    ghost.

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  27. Reblogged this on thewordpressghost and commented:
    Everyone,

    Here is someone thinking like I do.

    Don’t ask the ‘presidential contenders’ the easy questions.

    We know Obama’s answers on jobs, deficit spending, and most domestic issues.

    It is about bringing our boys and girls home we do not know anything.

    And neither do our boys.

    Regards,

    Ghost.

    Like

  28. My question would be this…
    Do you think it is okay to let individuals or organizations or corporations fund your campaign?
    If the answer is yes
    Why should an individual vote for a person when they have been bought and paid for?
    The answer will be
    “You’re a communist!”

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  29. You came up with the question that I would want to ask. Doesn’t it strike anybody as completely bizarre that this 12 year “war” we’ve been waging, that 24% of our nation’s budget is spent on, that 6,591 men and women have died for, isn’t even on the agenda? I mean, if everybody is going to give the rote answer of the economy being their major concern, shouldn’t this big ticket item be up for discussion?

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  30. I’d ask why a basic necessity such as education has taken a severe beating with funding? How much worse will this get before someone in our government will take notice and actually do something about it?

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  31. Pingback: Humbled into Pride (thanks & sorry) {a confession} | the long way home | Prodigal Paul

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