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MSNBC’s debate last evening focused on three themes. The health insurance debate, of which there is little difference between the plans of Senators Clinton and Obama, non-issue oriented questions of both moderators, and how NAFTA is ruining Ohio. First, the loss of jobs in Ohio is tied to the extensive use of technology in manufacturing, and the worldwide competitiveness of a multitude of manufacturing nations and our governments failure to prepare us to compete in a fierce worldwide trade market. It has little to do with Canada, whose manufacturing industry is on the decline, and Mexico which is responsible for only 11% of our imports – these two nations are NAFTA. Do you think one moderator or candidate might have pointed out the trade problem distinction – if the candidates did not know the distinction, then find new candidates, because neither is ready to be President?

Beyond this apparent gaff, I can tell you I have had about enough of debate questions designed to incite. I would hope that moderators would refrain from asking – How do you feel about your opponent’s attacks on you? The moderators clearly either don’t want to do fact checked follow-up questions or are just not knowledgeable enough to do these necessary questions. I need to be fair and point out that the overall news media in general, not just MSNBC, has not served this nation well with the choice of moderators for most of the debates. They seem more inclined to talk feelings, attack ads, and gotcha quotes. Often the political leaning of the moderator falls out all over their desk like a spilled can of red paint. It is noticed. Does anyone with a brain really care what these media types think and how they lean politically?

Why can’t we have a debate where tough questions are asked that test the knowledge, readiness to lead, the judgment of the candidate, and the enterprise to work through the political mine field to achieve a goal? Why does it appear that questions are tailored for the candidate, either to make them look poorly or to make them look presidential – okay, we might know the answer to that question? Of course, the positions of the candidates need to be learned; however, these positions are usually on their web site or in their campaign handouts or can be found in their opponent’s attack ads.

One moderator, last night, did make an attempt at asking the same hypothetical question to each candidate, but the question had a predictable answer before it was asked. It had something to do with – if Iraq asked us to leave, would we leave. Duh! What candidate, in their right mind, after the U.S. has recognized Iraq as a sovereign nation, would say – no we will stay anyway. Of course they would say – yes we will leave. This is the best this highly trained moderator could come up with?

Perhaps each candidate should be asked different questions, perhaps placed in envelopes chosen at random by each candidate. The moderator points out that these are tough question with no easy answers.

  1. The moderator opens the envelope and then asks the hypothetical but realistic question: Senator, as President, you have pulled out of Iraq, Iran has filled the void in Iraq and has now taken control of the Strait of Hormuz. It now controls 60% of the world’s oil exports. Iran is refusing oil shipments to the United States. How do you respond to this threat?
  2. The moderator opens the next envelope, selected by the next candidate, and asks: Three years from now, Iran hits Israel with a low yield nuclear tipped missile, 10,000 are dead, and Israel is mobilizing to go to nuclear war with Iran. How do you respond to this crisis?

These questions are realistic, the solutions are cloudy, but the depth of a candidate’s response to the question will tell us a whole lot about the candidate. When will we start to ask tough questions of these candidates? The media today is not providing any help in picking candidates. The media is more fixated on what Bill Cunningham said, who released the goofy picture of Senator Obama, or printing a story on page one that there is rumor and suspicion that Senator McCain may have possibly had an affair with a lobbyist and possibly or perhaps could have done favors on behalf of that lobbyist, like send a letter to the FCC asking a government agency only to make a decision – not how to make the decision. What are they teaching in journalism school – Tabloid 101?

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