NBC’s Brokaw Asks No Questions on Iraq, Immigration, Abortion or Same-Sex Marriage
The pretext of the debate was that the questions would come from a “townhall” audience and from Americans all across the nation sending in questions via the Internet. All issues would be inbounds.
Ultimately, however, all questions were screened and chosen by NBC’s Brokaw, who kept the focus almost exclusively on the economy and foreign policy.
In commentary on Fox News after the debate, Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard observed that there had been no questions about immigration and abortion. He was correct.
None of the questions in the debate referenced immigration, abortion or same-sex marriage, issues that have been prominent in American public policy debates in recent years.
Not one question directly mentioned Iraq, a nation where America is currently involved in a congressionally authorized war. Both candidates, however, brought up Iraq and discussed it in the course of their answers to questions that did not reference Iraq.
In his introduction to the debate, which was held at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., Brokaw explained that he was the final decider of questions.
“Tonight's debate is the only one with a town hall format,” Brokaw said. “The Gallup Organization chose 80 uncommitted voters from the Nashville area to be here with us tonight. And earlier today, each of them gave me a copy of their question for the candidates. From all of these questions--and from tens of thousands submitted online--I have selected a long list of excellent questions on domestic and foreign policy. Neither the commission nor the candidates have seen the questions. And although we won't be able to get to all of them tonight, we should have a wide-ranging discussion one month before the election.”
But this “wide-ranging” discussion in fact centered almost entirely on the economy and foreign policy which together were the theme of 16 of the 21 distinct questions asked. The only other issues featured in debate questions were the environment, energy and health care.
An analysis of a complete transcript of the debate posted by CNN shortly after the debate ended, indicated that of the 21 distinct debate questions, 9 focused on the economy, 7 on foreign policy, 2 on health care, 1 on the environment, and 1 on energy.
An additional question—the last one in the debate—came from a woman in Amherst, New Hampshire, and was characterized by Brokaw as having a “Zen-like” quality. It was: “"What don't you know and how will you learn it?"
A statement put out by the Commission on Presidential Debates on September 21 said the commission hailed the formats of this year’s presidential debates as an “historic breakthrough.”
It pitched Tuesday night’s debate as one that would allow “all topics in town meeting format, moderated by Tom Brokaw.”
“This year the moderator will include questions submitted by Internet at MyDebates.org with questions from the citizen participants,” the statement said.
The next and final presidential debate will be held next Wednesday, October 15, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. The commission says it will be on “the economy and domestic policy, moderated by Bob Schieffer.” Schieffer works for CBS News.
That debate will allow each candidate to spend 2 minutes answering a question followed by five minutes of discussion between the candidates.
Here are the 21 distinct questions asked in Tuesday night’s debate arranged by issue category:
- Audience member: “With the economy on the downturn and retired and older citizens and workers losing their incomes, what's the fastest, most positive solution to bail these people out of the economic ruin?”
- Tom Brokaw: “Obviously the powers of the treasury secretary have been greatly expanded. The most powerful officer in the cabinet now. Hank Paulson says he won't stay on. Who do you have in mind to appoint to that very important post?”
- Audience member: “Through this economic crisis, most of the people that I know have had a difficult time. And through this bailout package, I was wondering what it is that's going to actually help those people out.”
- Tom Brokaw: “Are you saying to Mr. Clark (ph) and to the other members of the American television audience that the American economy is going to get much worse before it gets better and they ought to be prepared for that?”
- Audience Member: “How can we trust either of you with our money when both parties got -- got us into this global economic crisis?”
- Tom Brokaw: “There are new economic realities out there that everyone in this hall and across this country understands that there are going to have to be some choices made. Health policies, energy policies, and entitlement reform, what are going to be your priorities in what order? Which of those will be your highest priority your first year in office and which will follow in sequence?”
- Tom Brokaw: “We're going to have a larger deficit than the federal government does if we don't get this under control here before too long. Sen. McCain, for you, we have our first question from the Internet tonight. A child of the Depression, 78-year-old Fiora (ph) from Chicago. Since World War II, we have never been asked to sacrifice anything to help our country, except the blood of our heroic men and women. As president, what sacrifices -- sacrifices will you ask every American to make to help restore the American dream and to get out of the economic morass that we're now in?”
- Tom Brokaw: “President Bush, you'll remember, last summer, said that "Wall Street got drunk." A lot of people now look back and think the federal government got drunk and, in fact, the American consumers got drunk. How would you, as president, try to break those bad habits of too much debt and too much easy credit, specifically, across the board, for this country, not just at the federal level, but as a model for the rest of the country, as well?”
- Tom Brokaw: “Would you give Congress a date certain to reform Social Security and Medicare within two years after you take office? Because in a bipartisan way, everyone agrees, that's a big ticking time bomb that will eat us up maybe even more than the mortgage crisis.”
- Audience member: “We saw that Congress moved pretty fast in the face of an economic crisis. I want to know what you would do within the first two years to make sure that Congress moves fast as far as environmental issues, like climate change and green jobs?”
- Tom Brokaw: “Should we fund a Manhattan-like project that develops a nuclear bomb to deal with global energy and alternative energy or should we fund 100,000 garages across America, the kind of industry and innovation that developed Silicon Valley?”
Health Care (2):
12. Audience Member: “Senator, selling health care coverage in America as the marketable commodity has become a very profitable industry. Do you believe health care should be treated as a commodity?”
13. Tom Brokaw: “Is health care in America a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?”
Foreign Policy (7):
- Audience Member: “How will all the recent economic stress affect our nation's ability to act as a peacemaker in the world?”
15. Tom Brokaw: “Let's see if we can establish tonight the Obama doctrine and the McCain doctrine for the use of United States combat forces in situations where there's a humanitarian crisis, but it does not affect our national security. Take the Congo, where 4.5 million people have died since 1998, or take Rwanda in the earlier dreadful days, or Somalia. What is the Obama doctrine for use of force that the United States would send when we don't have national security issues at stake?”
- Audience Member: “Should the United States respect Pakistani sovereignty and not pursue al Qaeda terrorists who maintain bases there, or should we ignore their borders and pursue our enemies like we did in Cambodia during the Vietnam War?”
17. Tom Brokaw: “Can I get a quick response from the two of you about developments in Afghanistan this week? The senior British military commander, who is now leading there for a second tour, and their senior diplomatic presence there, Sherard Cowper-Coles, who is well known as an expert in the area, both have said that we're failing in Afghanistan. The commander said we cannot win there. We've got to get it down to a low level insurgency, let the Afghans take it over. Cowper-Coles said what we need is an acceptable dictator. If either of you becomes president, as one of you will, how do you reorganize Afghanistan's strategy or do you? Briefly, if you can.”
18. Tom Brokaw: “How can we apply pressure to Russia for humanitarian issues in an effective manner without starting another Cold War?”
- Tom Brokaw: “This requires only a yes or a no. Ronald Reagan famously said that the Soviet Union was the evil empire. Do you think that Russia under Vladimir Putin is an evil empire?”
20. Audience Member: “If, despite your best diplomatic efforts, Iran attacks Israel, would you be willing to commit U.S. troops in support and defense of Israel? Or would you wait on approval from the U.N. Security Council?”
Zen-Like Question (1):
21. Tom Brokaw: “We've come to the last question. And you'll both be interested to know this comes from the Internet and it's from a state that you're strongly contesting, both of you. It's from Peggy in Amherst, New Hampshire. And it has a certain Zen-like quality, I'll give you a fair warning. She says, "What don't you know and how will you learn it?"