It’s widely believed that Vice Presidential debates don’t matter.
Tonight’s debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan lived up to this reputation.
The fault perhaps lies less with the candidates themselves than with the nature of the topics covered. The debate drenched us with facts (real or alleged) and was almost completely devoid of general principles, broad concepts or conclusions. It’s said that ideology is dead, and that’s supposedly a good thing. But when we dispense with ideology, don’t we rid ourselves of ideas, as well?
Perhaps some of the blame for this should go to the candidates. Perhaps some should go to the moderator, or to those who devised the questions.
Instead of talking about the questions asked of and answered by the candidates, I’d like to visualize the debate which might have been, and could have been.
Such a debate would have included the following types of questions.
“Vice President Biden, you stated that the last thing that we need is a war with Iran. But aren’t we already at war with them, like it or not? They have sponsored or endorsed every incident of terrorism directed against the United States since 1979. If they succeed at building a nuclear bomb, don’t you think it’s reasonable to assume they will use it? Aren’t we already at war with them, because they have declared war on the U.S. and the West?”
[To both candidates]: “Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it would be the worst thing imaginable for the United States to launch a strike against an Iranian weapons plant. How is this different from Neville Chamberlain saying back in the 1930s that appeasing Hitler would bring ‘peace in our time’?”
“Vice President Biden, if jobs are the central purpose of government economic policy, then why are we increasing the benefits of the welfare state such as food stamps and unemployment? Doesn’t this simultaneously take money away from job creators in the private sector and discourage people from seeking jobs in the first place?”
“Vice President Biden, you have indicated several times that the President should not allow the car industry to die. But if American car manufacturers are not pleasing consumers, and therefore fail to make a profit, why should the government force taxpayers to bail them out? And if so, why shouldn’t government have to bail out any business or industry that fails?”
[To both candidates] “Government expenditures have massively increased the national debt and the deficit. It will take multiple generations to pay off this debt, if it’s ever paid off. Both parties over the years have contributed to the debt. How is government spending of this magnitude justified when the economy is only growing at 1 percent? And when unemployment is still near 8 percent, or much higher if you count the people who have given up on seeking employment?”
“Vice President Biden, you stated that the wealthiest don’t need the tax cuts passed ten years ago, and they should be allowed to expire. This seems to imply that the money from the tax increases to come in January will be transferred to the people who make less money directly. But actually, this money is transferred to the government. Why is it justifiable to let the government decide which groups benefit from this money, and which ones do not? And why are those who made that money in the first place — regardless of their income status — not entitled to keep their own money?”
“Rep. Ryan, you stated that life begins at birth. You believe that abortion is therefore murder, and should be illegal. But you make an exception in the case of rape or incest. But if a fetus is a life with individual rights, why should a fetus be killed simply because it was conceived in rape or incest? This isn’t the fetus’ fault, correct? The fetus did not choose to be conceived this way. So why is it not murder when a fetus is conceived in rape or incest, while it is murder in all other cases?”
“Rep. Ryan, you stated that it’s perfectly reasonable to send letters to the White House on behalf of constituents asking for other people’s money. Does this mean that you believe, like your opponent, that some are entitled to the money of others? Or do you believe this is wrong, and the whole system of such favors and wealth transfers should be abolished?”
“Vice President Biden, you said that raising the cost of Medicare is wrong. Yet if freezing or reducing costs of health care results in reduced quality or innovation, is it worth it? And why do you think a private market for medicine is inferior to a government monopoly?”
[To both candidates] “Mitt Romney’s comment that 47 percent of the population will keep voting for government handouts has created quite a stir. Yet isn’t it true that at least 47 percent count on at least some form of government handout, one that amounts to more than they actually paid out (or will ever pay out) in taxes? And, if this is a fact, what do you say to these people who want these benefits to increase even as the rate of economic growth (and consequently taxes) cannot possibly keep up?”
It’s not the answers that matter so much as the questions asked. The quality of the questions leads to the illumination of any answers.
Oh, to live in culture where the right questions were asked — just once! Maybe in 2016 they will be; but not yet.
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