Green Room

Grading the debate’s…questions

posted at 11:00 am on October 18, 2012 by

Tuesday night’s presidential debate featured alleged undecided voters from New York State.  Over the course of one and a half hours, they managed to ask the following questions. I paste them below, courtesy of a transcript from Politico.

While everyone’s scoring the candidates’ performance, let’s score the questioners:

Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. What can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?

Jobs and the economy–legitimate territory to explore. But the “what can you say to reassure me” presented no challenge to either candidate.  Grade: C

(To President Obama):Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?

I actually thought this was a pretty clever question, and I wondered if the questioner’s purpose was to dig deeper into energy policy and perhaps even more of Secretary Chu’s less-than-populist statements. But the problem here is that the town hall format didn’t allow the questioner to pursue what seemed like an unfinished thought. Too bad the moderator didn’t, either. Grade: B+

Governor Romney, you have stated that if you’re elected president, you would plan to reduce the tax rates for all the tax brackets and that you would work with the Congress to eliminate some deductions in order to make up for the loss in revenue. Concerning the — these various deductions, the mortgage deductions, the charitable deductions, the child tax credit and also the — oh, what’s that other credit? I forgot….Oh, I remember. The education credits, which are important to me, because I have children in college. What would be your position on those things, which are important to the middle class?

Not a bad question—filled with specific items. Good job! Grade: A+

In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?

Where to begin…I don’t dismiss women’s concerns about equal pay. Despite what the conservative blogosphere writes and says about women’s pay being more in line with men’s than liberals want us to believe, my guess is that there are still many women who suspect their male counterparts might be getting more than they are in the workplace for the same quality work. That said, the Lily Ledbetter Act was an unfair way to address possible unfairness. I wish Romney had turned this question to a direct discussion of that act, placing it in true fairness terms: Is it fair for CEO Mary to have to pay for the discrimination sins of CEO Max that she had nothing whatsoever to do with? In other words, the Ledbetter Act was about statutes of limitations. He should have used this silly question to illuminate and educate. Instead, we got “binders full of women,” which was an amusing gaffe framed in a good story about his proactive approach to hiring women. Grade for the question: C- for vagueness and because it was just a setup for a war on women discussion.

 Governor Romney, I am an undecided voter, because I’m disappointed with the lack of progress I’ve seen in the last four years. However, I do attribute much of America’s economic and international problems to the failings and missteps of the Bush administration. Since both you and President Bush are Republicans, I fear a return to the policies of those years should you win this election. What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?

At first, I groaned when I heard this question. As time went on (that is, as I listened to Romney’s answer), I thought it was fair and actually illuminating. What the questioner was really saying is: We’ve heard President Obama say you would take us back to the policies that got us into our current financial mess. Tell me how your policies differ from those of the Bush administration. This was a great opportunity for Romney, and I thought he did a decent job with his answer. Grade for the question: B+

Mr. President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012? I’m not that optimistic as I was in 2012. Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive.

Good question, simply put. The questioner is wondering what the president’s record is, something he seems to run away from more than on. The only problem with it is it’s vague enough to be a softball, and that’s exactly how the president played it, with the usual blather. A reporter asking this question might have included some statistics—such as the ones that Mitt Romney has been repeating—about unemployment, food stamp recipients, stagnant wages and the like. A for effort, but B- for wording.

Mr. Romney, what do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society?

Hmm…I wonder what the questioner herself thought should be done with these illegal immigrants? (Note she avoids using the adjective “illegal” but does use “productive” when describing this group.) Good subject matter—it allowed Romney to zing the president, using the Univision interview where he was asked why he’d done nothing on immigration reform. But bad form. The questioner was probably not that interested in hearing any answer other than: give them all green cards, of course! Grade: D

This question actually comes from a brain trust of my friends at Global Telecom Supply in Minneola yesterday….We were sitting around, talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?

This question has been discussed at great length elsewhere. I don’t have much to add to that discussion except to say that I think the questioner was on the right track, trying to determine what the real story was with this terrorist attack. But a more important focus should have been: why did the administration embrace and broadcast a false narrative for so long? Grade: C

President Obama, during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?

Good grief, another loaded question (pun intended). I wish Romney had answered in this way: Since Iran is this close to getting a nuclear bomb, I suggest we increase our citizens’ access to all weapons.

I’m no Second Amendment purist. But gun control? When unemployment is at…well, you know the litany. Really? Grade: D-

The outsourcing of American jobs overseas has taken a toll on our economy. What plans do you have to put back and keep jobs here in the United States?

Direct and simple question, deals with trade issues and the economy but lacks specificity. It would have been better if the questioner could have pointed to specific trade bills or incentives for businesses to move or not move. Grade: B

I think this is a tough question. To each of you. What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate? Using specific examples, can you take this opportunity to debunk that misperception and set us straight?

No, it wasn’t a tough question. But it was a nice smiley-face one. It did give Romney a chance to remind folks he doesn’t go around the country arbitrarily killing workers’ wives. Grade: C+

That’s my roundup of the questioners and how good or bad I thought their inquiries were. Please share your opinions with me.

And, for the love of God, let’s abandon this town hall format next election cycle!

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.

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Comments

I didn’t keep a tally but I think Candy Crowley asked almost as many questions as the town hallers while reprimanding the candidates about “all these people waiting to ask questions” on more than one occasion. I think a better format would be to have two partisans-better than pretending we have a neutral moderator. The left leaning moderator asks a question, then the right leaning one asks a follow-up. Right leaning asks the next question and left leaning asks a follow-up questions. We might actually get to the heart of the issues. And I’d cut off the mic at the two minute mark. Speaking concisely is an important skill for a leader.

hopeful on October 18, 2012 at 12:15 PM

I think a better format would be to have two partisans-better than pretending we have a neutral moderator.

hopeful on October 18, 2012 at 12:15 PM

I think that is worth a try, provided that we actually get that. If the debate were moderated by Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity, okay. If the debate were moderated by Rachel Maddow and David Gergen, not okay.

J.S.K. on October 18, 2012 at 1:16 PM

Overall, I thought the questions were pretty good. I found the debate frustrating because both candidates repeatedly avoided answering specific questions and responded with their own talking points.

Were the debate rules for this public? The moderator should be able to direct the candidates to answer the questions when they avoid answering specific questions.

lexhamfox on October 18, 2012 at 2:03 PM

Were the debate rules for this public? The moderator should be able to direct the candidates to answer the questions when they avoid answering specific questions.

lexhamfox on October 18, 2012 at 2:03 PM

The debate rules were released to the public the day before this debate. http://www.scribd.com/doc/110073567/The-2012-Debates-Memorandum-of-Understanding-Between-the-Obama-and-Romney-Campaigns

And directing the candidates to answer the questions when they avoid answering specific questions was not supposed to be part of the moderator’s job at the town hall debate. See item (iv) on page 8.

J.S.K. on October 18, 2012 at 7:23 PM

I think that is worth a try, provided that we actually get that. If the debate were moderated by Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity, okay. If the debate were moderated by Rachel Maddow and David Gergen, not okay.

J.S.K. on October 18, 2012 at 1:16 PM

Good point. What if we let the leadership of the Tea Party and the leadership of OWS choose their respective moderators?

hopeful on October 18, 2012 at 8:34 PM