Let's Play 20 Questions

A set of stumpers, nags, and insults for the 2008 field


"Is Roe bad?"

Rudy Giuliani has a terrific chance of becoming our next president. If George W. Bush could answer Americans' prayers and call an election for next Tuesday, Giuliani would be president. So on the day he officially announced his run, Hannity and Colmes ran an interview with America's Mayor wherein the beefy Long Island talker/Ruth's Chris-lover asked him… that question.

"Is Roe bad?"

It wouldn't be fair (though it's satisfyingly easy) to pick on Hannity and his basket of softballs. Presidential campaigns are, theoretically, about breaking candidates apart, exposing their weaknesses, divining something about their character before we entrust them with the ever-expanding superpowers of the Commander-in-Chief. But the candidates have learned to avoid tough questions. If he's a Republican, he stages a screened "town hall meeting" or talk to Fox News. If she's a Democrat, she opens an "online conversation" or fields powder puffs like this one from MSNBC's Keith Olbermann: "Having spent eight years in the White House, under the conditions in which you and your husband spent them, that`s a reason to want to go back to the White House?" (If this was a 1980s sitcom, the pair would start cracking up and we'd go to the theme song.)

There are reporters who mercilessly grill the candidates; for all his faults, NBC's Tim Russert comes to mind. But too many reporters approach the race with a doctrinaire liberals or conservative perspective, and too many of the same questions get asked. "Do you regret your vote for the Iraq resolution?" "What would you do about Iran?" "Would you roll back the tax cuts?" Just as often, media will seize on a candidate's gaffe or one thorny issue and pepper the candidate with the same line of questioning, again and again.

The following list doesn't compile every question that should be posed to the 2008 candidates. It probably doesn't compile all the best questions, the Roger Mudd-Ted Kennedy stumpers that could sink some of these already-seasick candidacies. It's just a list of nags that the candidates might not have talking points for. And those are the sorts of queries they should be getting every day.

1) Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani
"When you were mayor of New York, you made two attempts to extend your term in office. You opposed a term limits bill that voters passed; you publicly speculated over staying in office after September 11, and only reluctantly stopped a third party from nominating you for a third term after the state legislature made it clear they wouldn't allow it. Given that the last six years have seen a vast expansion of presidential power, how can Americans trust you not to abuse the office and seek more and more personal authority?"

2) Arizona Sen. John McCain
"You've backed off on some campaign finance reforms, and you yourself are opting out of public financing for 2008. Could you explain why the other candidates should abide by the old campaign finance reforms, and by McCain-Feingold?"

3) Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
"When Sen. Hillary Clinton gave a mildly hawkish speech about Iran but opened the possibility of engaging with their leaders, you blasted her. 'Advocating engagement displays a troubling timidity toward a terrible threat. The right strategy is not engagement, but economic and diplomatic isolation.' Please enumerate which other countries you want to threaten instead of engage."

4) Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback
"You opposed President Clinton's 1999 action in Kosovo, and said at the time 'I continue to implore the Clinton administration to present a clearly thought-out exit strategy from the hostilities in Kosovo.' Why didn't you apply this standard to the Bush administration over the last six years?"

5) Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
"Your successor as Arkansas governor, Mike Beebe, is considering dropping the 'obesity report cards' you introduced. As president, what mandatory, federal programs would you introduce to schoolchildren to get them in shape?"

6) Texas Rep. Ron Paul
"You want to abolish the Federal Reserve. What is your plan for grappling with the international financial instability—if not panic—that would follow this move?"

7) Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo
"Five years ago you said 'China is trying to export people' and continued, 'It's a policy for them, a way of extending their hegemony. It's a government-sponsored thing.' As president, what measures would you take to stop Chinese people from breeding so energetically and dominating the world—and by extension, this country?"

8) Former HHS Sec. Tommy Thompson
"Could you briefly explain why every American should get a computer chip implant?"

9) Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore
"In 2001 you signed a proclamation celebrating European-American Heritage and History Month, only to rescind it when it was pointed out that David Duke lobbied for the holiday. If it was proposed by non-racists, would you support a federal European-American heritage month?"

10) California Rep. Duncan Hunter
"You're perhaps the leading advocate for a fence on the Mexican border, as you won the funding for a border fence in California. However, that fence was a boondoggle that went far over budget and poured illegal immigrant traffic over into the Arizona desert. Does this call into question your solutions on illegal immigration?"

11) New York Sen. Hillary Clinton
"Defending your vote in favor of the Iraq resolution, you said: 'As a senator from New York, I lived through 9/11 and am still dealing with the aftereffects.' What was Iraq's role in the 9/11 attacks?"

12) Illinois Sen. Barack Obama
"In your 2004 campaign for Senate, you approached the issue of a nuclear Iran this way: 'Us launching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in. On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse.' How far along would Iran's nuclear program have to get before an Obama administration launched missile strikes?"

13) Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards
"You have said you were mistaken to vote for the 2002 Iraq resolution. But you did more than that: You were a co-sponsor of Sen. Joe Lieberman's war resolution, along with Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, and Zell Miller. Given the arc of your flip-flop, why should anyone trust your judgment on foreign policy?"

14) Delaware Sen. Joe Biden
"You were the author of the RAVE Act in the Senate. Can you explain why glow sticks should be considered drug paraphernalia, and as president what you might do to prohibit them?"

15) Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd
"When you were a congressman, you argued for ending funding to South Vietnam by saying: 'The greatest gift our country can give to the Cambodian people is peace, not guns. And the best way to accomplish that goal is by ending military aid now.' With that in mind, don't you have a credibility problem when you talk about ending the Iraq war with minimal repercussions?"

16) Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack
"Did making English the official language of Iowa cut back on the state's influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico?"

17) New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson
"Could you defend and explain your conduct in the Wen Ho Lee case, and why it doesn't disqualify you from holding another job that would deal daily with issues of national security?"

18) Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich
"As a congressman, and now a committee chairman, you have made 'media reform' a priority. What do you see as the president's role in regulating and limiting the media available to viewers?"

19) Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel
"If you were prohibited from appearing at any debates or candidate forums, would you still be in this race?"

And the 20th question, a bonus question for any candidate who wants the extra points:

"You have to abolish one cabinet position. Name it."

Yes, that's more of a demand than a question. Easy to forget, but we're allowed to make those, too.

David Weigel is an associate editor of Reason.