Questions That Obama and Clinton Were Not Asked in the Debate

Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos of ABC News have rightly been criticized for focussing on “gotcha” type questions in the presidential “debate” of April 16. Whether asking about Clinton’s misrepresentation of her experience in war-torn Bosnia or Obama’s relation to pastor Jeremiah Wright, the questions served the prurient interests of viewers about alleged personal weaknesses of the candidates, leaving little time, as Obama complained, for them to talk about substantive policy issues. With this in mind, I offer a few questions that were not asked but which are the “tough” questions that American voters need to have asked on their behalf. Each one is “confrontational,” and would probably have made both candidates uncomfortable, but for a good public benefit.

1. “Senator Obama, Senator Clinton, you both speak of immediate withdrawal from Iraq beginning as soon as you become President. If the war is a ‘mistake,’ why must you wait until next January to help bring it to an end? As a member of Congress you have the ‘power of the purse’ to stop the war by voting to withhold funding in the immediately-upcoming vote on a supplemental war appropriation. Will you vote to do that?”

2. “Senator Clinton, you just said, in response to my question whether the U.S. should consider an Iranian attack on Israel as an attack on the United States, that this country should have an “umbrella” of protection against nuclear attack under which any country could come that would forego its efforts at nuclear weapons production. Since your answer referred to a question about Israel, I assume that you expected that country to fit under that umbrella. But doesn’t Israeli itself have nuclear capabilities that we have helped to develop? So could people living in Tel Aviv, or in fact Philadelphia, enjoy the protection of that umbrella?… Senator Obama, your response?”

3. “Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, you have both indicated your opposition to NAFTA even though, Senator Clinton, it was passed during your husband’s presidency. Though you both now are opposed to the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, one of your aides, Senator Obama, was said to have told a Canadian official not to take this issue “seriously” and you, Senator Clinton, had a top advisor who was found to be assisting the Colombian government in securing its passage. Given the fact that both of you supported last December a Free Trade Agreement with Peru very similar to NAFTA and the Colombia one, how can the American people believe that either of you is “serious” about addressing trade practices that are harmful to workers in the United States and in other countries?”

4. “Senator Obama, Senator Clinton, Israel has just begun building additional settlements in the West Bank, in violation of the “roadmap to peace” that was negotiated with U.S. support. If you were President, what would you do to insure that Israel would not further violate the terms of this roadmap?”

5. “Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, you have both spoken eloquently about the need for fiscal responsibility and also about your commitments to insure the future of Social Security, full funding of No Child Left Behind, massive reconstruction of American infrastructure and other urgent domestic needs of the country. Given the cost of these programs and your desire to accomplish them without deficit financing, how would you pay for them? Specifically would you consider reductions in massive defense expenditures if these cuts could be accomplished without compromising the security of the United States? If so, where would you look to the possibility of such cuts?”

6. “Senator Obama, Senator Clinton, you both have indicated your intention to reduce the influence of “special interests” during your presidential administration. But the investment firm of Goldman Sachs, to cite one example, has contributed around a half million dollars to each of your campaigns. You, Senator Clinton, have a former campaign contribution “bundler” who is now in jail for illegal campaign fund-raising and you, Senator Obama, it has just been revealed in a USA Today article, have been assisted in such campaign fund bundling by 38 lawyers who are associated with firms that lobby in Washington. Can you really expect the American people to believe that your presidency will counter “special interest” influence?

Were there to be a genuine “debate,” issues like the ones addressed in these questions would surely be raised; otherwise, further debates might be useful in selling the commercial products advertised with such profuseness in the Wednesday night debate, but would have little other redeeming value. Since, I would guess, these two candidates would give essentially identical answers to these questions, would it not be vital to future debates that other candidates besides the Republican and Democratic ones be included before Americans elect their next President in November?

Jerry D. Rose is a retired professor of sociology from State University of New York at Fredonia, now living in Gainesville Florida. He may be contacted at: Read other articles by Jerry, or visit Jerry's website.

11 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Rich Griffin said on April 20th, 2008 at 6:26am #

    This is why it is so important that Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney be in the debates in the fall – I believe that they will raise these ethical questions in a way that the mainstream media is incable of doing – because of their own ethical problems with cheerleading rather than reporting the news. Those questions are terrific – there are many more, such as what can you do as President to help consumers with soaring food prices? Gas prices? Runaway taxes on their phone, electric, cable, and heating bills??

  2. lee from Florida said on April 20th, 2008 at 7:17am #

    You got my support…
    What I saw on ABC Wednesday night, was not by no means a debate, I had all I could do holding myself back from flinging my ice tea at the TV set…

  3. Don Hawkins said on April 20th, 2008 at 8:14am #

    Point number seven.
    For those of us that don’t live in dreamland or are part of the Matrix that many have come to know as there friend. Here is just a few questions. 85 million barrels of oil a day Worldwide and could add 5 million more in a few years. The economies Worldwide number one on the list to keep going and at all cost move forward more, more. Right now the World is using 30% more resources than the Earth can reproduce and of course climate change that for my kids and there kids on this present course the future is no future. Can somebody please tell me who the hell is in charge? Because it sure looks like nobody is in charge. Has there been a decision made by the so called deciders that there is no answer to these problems and to do nothing the problems will solve themselves? In 1988 this planet passed 350 ppm of CO 2 in the atmosphere and is now at about 384 ppm. Many thinking people feel that in just a few years because of drought and flooding crops and food could be a bit of a problem. Many thinking people also feel that say the economy’s Worldwide do get cookin again just how the hell is that suppose to work. Wait don’t tell me technology will save us. Many thinking people know the numbers on what is being done and what needs to be done and we are only off by about 95%. Who would like to go first? Obama starts with, “have hope”, Clinton Say’s, “when the phone rings I will answer”, McCain say’s, “think long term” and I say, ” cut the crap this is war and the word is getting out, yes many still live in matrixland but everyday more and more humans are starting to unplug. 350, 350, 350, 350 is the day we passed a point that playing games as usually is far beyond stupid. More and more people are starting to understand that hard choices are going to be needed if my kids and there kids are going to have a fighting chance”. Would anybody like to comment on these points as the camera pans to the potential leaders of the free World and they all are just looking straight ahead with there mouths half open in sort of a dream state.

  4. Max Shields said on April 20th, 2008 at 12:03pm #

    Good questions requiring two things: 1. alternative news to ask them 2. 3 and 4th party candidates to answer them.

  5. Don Hawkins said on April 20th, 2008 at 3:38pm #

    Point number 8

    By Rhaydz B. Barcia, Correspondent
    LEGAZPI CITY: Scientists warned the Philippines could experience famine by 2020, as the adverse impact of global warming takes its toll on natural resources.
    One of those scientists was Lourdes Tibig, climate data chief of the central office of the national weather agency, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pag-asa). She and others attended the roundtable discussion of scientists and community development practitioners on disaster and climate risk reduction and climate change adaptation, organized by the Center for Initiatives and Research on Climate Adaptation, of the Albay provincial government.
    Tibig said the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fourth assessment report showed global warming is unequivocal, causing ice caps to melt and sea levels to rise.
    “We have pumped enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to warm the planet for many decades to come. The earth’s natural system will be affected for decades even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced now,” she said.
    “There are projected increases from 1.1 degrees Celsius to 6.4 degrees Celsius during the 21st century, and for the next two decades, a warming of about 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade is projected, meaning severe drought occurrences and frequent flooding are expected to happen in the Philippines,” Tibig told participants here.
    “The impact of climate change on agriculture will be very bad,” she added.
    Glacial melting threatens disastrous floods in Bhutan, one of the world’s most environmentally vigilant nations.
    By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
    April 20, 2008
    PUNAKHA, BHUTAN — High in the Himalayas, above this peaceful valley where farmers till a patchwork of emerald-green fields, an icy lake fed by melting glaciers waits to become a “tsunami from the sky.”

    The lake is swollen dangerously past normal levels, thanks to the global warming that is causing the glaciers to retreat at record speed. But no one knows when the tipping point will come and the lake can take no more, bursting its banks and sending torrents of water crashing into the valley below.

    Alternatine news how about just the news not people talking about nothing and then more people who talk about the people who just talked about nothing.

  6. Trish Popovitch said on April 20th, 2008 at 4:01pm #

    I’m just starting to wonder if its all too late, again. I agree with Hawkins regarding the 4th party candidate. At this point I feel we’ll be choosing the best of a bad lot; politicians chosen for their screen time abilities and not their economic polices.

    In regard to the article great but I got side tracked: why on earth should Israel be an umbrella country of the United States? This one side support of an extremely complicated issue is simply making things worse. If Israel puts down its nuclear weapons and learns to share, why would it even need US support to stay safe? As Israel remains in violation of international boundary laws I get really sick and tired of feeling bad for them. I’m sorry but there it is. Of course, its not everyone over there, just a few politicians elected for their screen time abilities and not their peaceful policies.

    Small world huh?

  7. TS Draegeth said on April 21st, 2008 at 2:55pm #

    Do not be fooled by Obama and/or Hillary’s “upset” at being asked silly questions. If they were honest people, they could have answered the questions honestly and directly, then used the inanity of the question to segue to a serious statement/discussion about the real issues that matter. Their “offense” is as staged and predictable as the whole “debate” setup was that spawned that same “offense.”

  8. Jerry D. Rose said on April 21st, 2008 at 5:11pm #

    Very intriguing interpretation, TS Drageath, of the vapid content of the questions asked at that “debate.” It’s entirely possible that each candidate is sticking out his/her chin and saying “hit me” so that the “victim” of attack journalism can use that to play on public sympathy. The post-debate complaints of numerous Obama supporters that their guy had been unfairly used—and a similar comment of Bill Clinton about the long-term pilloring of Hillary–gives some credence to this interpretation. The totally sad and sick thing is that this kind of self-defined victimization may actually WORK in this electorate which can’t seem to get much beyond their sympathetic feelings about the candidates. Didn’t Clinton win because she “cried” about her mis-treatment in New Hampshire, just as Ed Muskie lost all those years ago because the CRIED in the same state? (Real men don’t cry, real women do). Maybe we’re getting the kind of candidates and media coverage we deserve if which case…God help us!

  9. Max Shields said on April 22nd, 2008 at 6:00am #

    Jerry Rose, in the end we can pierce the veil but most are still very much wrapped in it.

    Seeing through the obvious does not seem to get us past it. The triteness of “having a beer” with candidates as the singular connection with the American people is case in point.

    Critical thinking, after all, is the exception.

  10. Jerry D. Rose said on April 22nd, 2008 at 6:08am #

    Max Shields, “The Myth of Sisyphus” my friend. Although “critical thinking” is exceptional, can we as devotees to its promotion do other than continue to roll that stone to the top of the hill?

  11. Mike McNiven said on April 23rd, 2008 at 11:16am #

    next question:

    Mr.Obama, why hedge fund “Citadel” is doing fundraising for you? what is the quid pro quo in this case?