News that President Obama will sit for an interview this week with the editor in chief of Buzzfeed News, Ben Smith, brought a smile to my face.
It says something about the dynamism and competitiveness of American capitalism that a company as new as Buzzfeed, which was founded in 2006, can score an interview with the president of the United States. This, as NBC, which was founded in 1926, is struggling with the aftermath of statements by its anchorman Brian Williams.
On a personal level, I knew and hired Ben when he was just starting out in journalism years ago, so I'm pleased to hear about his success.
But what really made me happiest of all was the news that Ben is soliciting "your toughest questions" to ask the president. It brought me back to the interview that Ben and I conducted with Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City back in 2002 for publication in the first issue of the revived New York Sun. That was the interview in which Bloomberg responded to a question about privatizing the subways by asking me what I was smoking. Not that Ben needs any help from me. But since he is asking, and in the hope that the Buzzfeed editor's encounter with President Obama will be as provocative and memorable as was that sit-down with Bloomberg 13 years ago, I put my mind to formulating some questions. Here they are:
After the attack on Charlie Hebdo last month, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Cameron of Britain, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and King Abdullah II of Jordan joined millions in Paris to march in support of free expression and against Islamist extremist terrorist violence. Why weren't you there? What were you doing instead at the time?
The Russians are sending T-80 tanks into Ukraine. The Ukrainians trying to defend themselves have asked us for arms and ammunition, including antitank missiles. Instead we recently announced we are sending them money for blankets and counseling for traumatized civilians. This led one senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations to write, "The United States thus becomes not the 'Arsenal of Democracy' but the linen closet. "How do you respond to that line of criticism?
Who was the "senior administration official" who in October described Prime Minister Netanyahu to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic as "chicken[manure]"? Was it you yourself?
Given the treatment of France, Ukraine, and Israel I asked about in the previous three questions, and given your decisions to ease sanctions on Cuba and Iran in efforts to reach better relations with both, what do you say to critics of your foreign policy who say that you seem to be going out of your way to insult or punish America's friends while rewarding its enemies?
In August 2011, you said, "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside." More than three years later, Assad is still clinging to power. Have you changed your mind over that time about whether he should step aside? If not, why haven't you been able to get rid of him?
In selling your Obamacare health overhaul, you repeatedly told Americans that if they liked their plan, they could keep their plan. In fact, millions of them got cancellation notices. In the private sector, someone who sold something based on that kind of falsehood might be prosecuted for fraud. What do you have to say for yourself?
The MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who worked on Obamacare, was caught on tape talking about "the stupidity of the American voter" and the way the legislation was set up to show an illusion of cost savings by front-loading the taxes but back-loading the benefits. Again, this is the sort of thing that if someone in the private sector did it, the SEC or the Justice Department would be all over them. What do you think Professor Gruber meant?
In your June 24, 2009 town hall on health care, you said, "Aetna is a well-managed company and I am confident that your shareholders are going to do well." If someone had bought Aetna then on that advice, they would have quadrupled their money. How do you respond to the criticism that Obamacare is just a giant giveaway or taxpayer subsidy to big health insurance companies?
Earlier this year you proposed taxing withdrawals from 529 college savings accounts. Then, a couple of weeks later, you backed down and shelved the idea. If this tax increase is such a bad idea that it deserved to be abandoned, why'd you propose it in the first place? Why would you want to increase taxes on parents who save for college? Isn't saving for college the sort of thing you want to encourage parents to do, rather than punish them for doing?
Back in the 2008 primary campaign, you described Hillary Clinton as "a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Walmart." Since she stepped down as your secretary of state, she reportedly made almost $500,000 for speaking to Goldman Sachs. Is she the best the Democratic Party is going to be able to offer as a spokesman for what you call "middle class economics," or as a campaigner against income inequality, in the 2016 presidential race?
And if not Hillary, then who? Your vice president, Joseph Biden, was first elected to the Senate in 1972, before most of Buzzfeed's staff and readers were even born. Would he be "change we can believe in"?