Monday, February 11, 2008

Questions for the Candidates

I haven't followed the Republican primary much, but occasionally when I've listened to part of a debate I have been struck by how substantive the discussion has been compared to the Democrats. I want the Democratic race to be more substantive. Matthew Yglesias picked up this theme in his blog post Important things we haven't talked about: " reason the [Democratic] campaign often feels so tedious is that both campaigns keep talking about the same very narrow set of things over and over again." Yglesias proposes a list of topics that Hillary and Obama should start talking about:

- Budget deficits: Are Clinton or Obama committed to reducing them, or are they open to expanding them in order to establish new programs that they think are especially important? And what programs might qualify?

- Federal Reserve: Are Clinton or Obama happy with the past 25 or so years of conservative Republican leadership at the Fed or would they like to take things in a new direction?

- Judiciary: Assuming a Democratic Senate allows for relatively easy confirmations, do Clinton or Obama intend to continue appointing 1990s-style moderates, or would we see a return to the liberal jurisprudence of a Thurgood Marshall?

- Unilateral preventive war as a non-proliferation policy: Should we disavow this aspect of the Bush National Security Strategy or are we going to stick with it and hope that more conciliatory rhetoric can make it work?

- Israel: Any number of things come to mind, but in the most general sense do Clinton or Obama see this as an important issue it's worth focusing on in 2009, or is it a headache the intend to ignore until a crisis breaks out or they're lame ducks?

- Root causes: Does reducing the appeal of al-Qaeda really require the transformation of the Muslim world into a series of democracies, or are there aspects of US foreign policy that drive radicalism?

- War on terror: If, as both candidates affirm, we're in a "war on terror" when might that war end? What, if any, special war powers do Clinton and Obama think the state of war justifies? Or is this a pure metaphor that, like the "war on poverty," is simply supposed to signify a high level of commitment?

Ezra Klein adds a number of issues with a series of posts starting with The unmentionables:

- Taxation: Do they think our current levels are sufficient? Putting aside political questions, what sort of taxation should America have? Is the current cocktail of payroll, income, and capital gains taxes the right way to do this? Are there alternative systems we might want to try?

- Unipolarity: Do they agree that preserving America's dominant status should be an explicit tenet of American foreign policy? Do they think Paul Woflowitz was right to say "the United States to perpetuate its military supremacy and prevent the emergence of any rival superpower?"

- Prison Culture: Obama has spoken a bit about inequities in the justice system, but, to be honest, the best statements on this have come from Huckabee, who says we lock up a lot of people we're mad at, rather than afraid of. Do they agree with our system of retribution-based justice? Or would they prefer a more rehabilitative approach? And how would they pursue that?

- Military Spending: Do we really need to be spending this much? If so, why? Would a 10 percent shift in resources towards soft power and humanitarian uplift not do more to increase our international prestige and security?

- Health Spending: Seriously, how do we cut it? Tamp down on services? Cut reimbursement rates? Vastly expand individual financial vulnerability? Smart cost sharing? What's your end game to keep our budget from exploding?

- Can we talk honestly about how much Americans understand or not the civic process in their own country rather than having that understanding assumed? This is an education/ignorance of the political process question. What should we expect people to realistically understand in a complex society?

- Multinational institution building: What sort of role will such institutions play your foreign policy? Which institutions to you foresee taking major roles in the next decade? What sort of new institutions would you build? How would you reform existing ones? In general, what sort of international order do you envision? How important is national sovereignty?

- [Do they support] keeping or abolishing the 60 votes for cloture requirement in the US Senate?

- What criteria they will use to select Federal judges especially members of the US Supreme Court and how they feel about amending the Constitution to impose term limits or a requirement to be reappointed periodically for the high court or requiring a 2/3 vote for nomination to the Supreme Court if life tenure is preserved?

- Do the candidates believe it is a good idea for presidents to have unilateral authority to decide whether the nation goes to war? That is what Hillary Clinton voted for in the Iraq war resolution.


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