/ Opinions / Improving debates

Improving debates

February 28, 2020 by Mark Shields

First, a confession: I really like presidential debates. Why, you ask? Because these debates give us voters the chance to watch and evaluate the candidates while they stand shoulder-to-shoulder and have to answer the same questions. Away from their carefully orchestrated campaign events, without their teleprompters or an audience of planted, friendly supporters, candidates in a debate are under pressure and facing criticism from both opponents and moderators. Presidential debates have been aptly described as job interviews where we, the voters, are able to assess the character, intelligence and personality of fellow Americans who seek to lead the nation.

The presidential debate is far from perfect. The late — and, yes, great — Jim Lehrer, who I have been lucky to have as a colleague and a friend for over three decades and who died this January — set the world’s record by being chosen to moderate 12 presidential debates. Characteristically, Jim Lehrer understood that these debates were not about the moderator or the panelists but about the presidential candidates. Our debates would be better and more helpful if the candidates, as Jim Lehrer urged, asked one another questions.

Nobody is ever going to ask me to ask questions in a presidential debate. But that doesn’t stop me from having questions I would like to have asked. Here are a few:

Without mentioning the name of any opponent, tell the nation — in two minutes — why, of the 329 million of us Americans, you should be the president of the United States.

Name two major issues on which you disagree with the majority of your own political party and what you have done to make your disagreement known.

Since 2004, only two presidential nominees — John McCain and John Kerry — ever served in the U.S. military in wartime. Did you ever think about enlisting in the United States military to serve your country?

Which president — who was in office during your adult lifetime — of the opposing political party do you most admire and why?

Do you think the Houston Astros, who have been exposed for and admitted to illegally stealing their opponents’ signs, should be forced to surrender their 2017 World Series championship rings and trophy?

Your fellow Americans know that we, as a nation and a people, face serious challenges. They know there is no free lunch. Tell me: What sacrifices are you calling upon your fellow Americans to make? What price are you asking us all to pay? What burdens will we have to bear?

What, within 25 cents, is the average national price per gallon of gasoline?

What was the last movie you saw in a movie theater? Do you think “Parasite” deserved the Oscar for best picture?

With all the attention given to tensions over the Straits of Hormuz, does it bother you that there is next to no public discussion about the gays of Hormuz? 

Before he was 22 years old, Mike Mansfield of Montana, who served as U.S. Senate majority leader longer than anyone in history and then served as U.S. ambassador to Japan longer than any other American, had served honorably in the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps. Before he died, he directed that his simple marker at Arlington Cemetery be inscribed: “Michael J. Mansfield, PVT. U.S. Marine Corps.” In one sentence, what would you want your epitaph to be?

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.



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