Watching the Debates: Two Questions

This year, more than any other I can recall, the pundits predict that the debates can be decisive in the presidential election. James Fallows in The Atlantic (September) made the case that Gov. Mitt Romney was an excellent debater and that President Obama may be in for a surprise. I watched nearly all the debates during the primaries and this assessment of Romney’s skill came as a surprise to me. As I write this the polls give Obama a strong and growing lead, and, it is said, this is Romney’s last chance—barring an unforeseen international crisis like an Israeli invasion of Iran—to turn it around.

When the ritual of the presidential debate was introduced in 1960 I was locked away at Shrub Oak, the Jesuit philosophy seminary in the Westchester hills when TV was still a forbidden fruit. In my two years there we were allowed to watch only one show: The Bishop Fulton J. Sheen show then a wildly popular program, in the episode in which he evaluated modern literature for his audience. The only thing I recall is that he attacked Graham Greene, then and now one of the world’s greatest Catholic novelists, for his negative attitude.


To see the first Kennedy-Nixon debate we had to break a rule. One of our classmates had discovered an old TV in the physics lab in the basement. There we watched this historic moment, cheering of course for JFK, in secret. Since then, writing for America, Commonweal, or National Catholic Reporter, I have covered Democratic Conventions and seen nearly all the debates. Oddly, only a few minutes stay lodged in my head: Mondale promising honestly to raise taxes; George H. W. Bush looking at his watch; the “You’re no Jack Kennedy,” reply; and Hillary Clinton threatening to “obliterate Iran.” I had to ask myself if she really new what the word “obliterate” meant and how she could commit herself to so immoral an act.

In Sunday’s Washington Post (September 30), John Donvan argues that the structure of the debates is the problem. They are designed to keep the debaters out of trouble. Rather, he says, we should face the fact that a debate is a fight and put them in the ring and let them duke it out in 10 minute exchanges rather than quickly fall back on canned quips and poses. “I’m glad you asked that question, because it reminds me of the time when my grandfather gave me advice, ‘Always say what you believe, and believe what you say.’ I have dedicated my political career to being faithful to my grandfather’s words.”

Several articles have proposed questions. I add one for each.

For Romney: Governor, in your acceptance speech at the Republican Convention you sarcastically mocked President Obama’s environmental policies by accusing him of attempting to stop the ocean from rising. As if that was a ludicrous idea. A few days later, however, the New York Times front page explained how the rising ocean was threatening New York. The implication of your remarks is that you do not believe in climate change or that this change is a major threat to the environment today. This leads us to wonder about your basic scientific knowledge and attitude toward science and public policy. Do you believe in evolution? Do you believe that the human person has evolved over history from lower species? Do you believe the climate is changing as a result of our polluting the atmosphere?

For Obama: In your attempt to establish an image as a strong leader you have repeatedly bragged that you killed Ben Laden. And you have authorized hundreds of drone strikes which have killed hundreds of innocent civilians. But the virtue of courage, which is essential for a moral as well as a military leader, also requires one to confront domestic enemies who may have the power to effect your reelection. You know from your study, and from your previous policy positions, that the proliferation of every sort of gun—handguns, automatic weapons, etc, —is having a literally murderous impact on our public life. Yet you are intimidated by the National Rifle Association, whose policies you know could lead to every American toting a pistol—students in classes, everyone on the street, hikers in national parks, churchgoers everywhere. You know that’s crazy, but you are scared to say so. Why?

Raymond A. Schroth



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Tim O'Leary
6 years ago
I would hope that some questions are raised about their legislative intentions regarding abortion in the extreme cases - for both Presidents. Here are three questions I would like to have asked:

1. Will you promise to insert clear conscience protection language into the regulations of the Affordable Healthcare Act to ensure that no American will be forced to pay for drugs or otherwise provide for, or assist at, procedures that they strongly believe go against their religious beliefs?

2. Mara Hvistendahl, a journalist for Science, in her book “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men” estimated that, due to the increasing availability of ultrasound, at least 160 million girls have been eliminated around the world through sex-selection abortions, making this 'War on Women in the Womb' the most dangerous place for girls in the whole world. In June of this year, 161 Democrats and 7 Republicans voted against a law that would have added legal protection for these girls. Will you support legislation that will penalize doctors for performing abortions on the sole grounds that the unborn child is a female?

3. Several people are alive today who have survived abortion attempts, including Melissa Ohden, Claire Culwell and Gianna Jessen. Will you support legislation that will mandate the best medical care for children who are born alive despite attempted abortions - to do the best to save their lives? (their names have links to their YouTube interviews).
Michael Fitzgerald
6 years ago
I would ask both candidates the same questiuon:
The Catholic Church declares the doctrine, and faithful Catholics universally agree, that all human life begins at conception and must be defended until natural death. Will you promise not to advocate, implement or enforce any law that would require or force Catholics to act in opposition to that doctrine?
J Cosgrove
6 years ago
I will try to answer the question posed to Romney.  Here is what Romney could say to the question Fr. Schroth made.

''First, I am a big believer in science but one who believes in science knows that it has very definite limitations.  For example in the points you bring up:

There is no good definition of evolution.  Things do change over time and living things seem to have become more complex.  But no one has shown any way that this complexity could have originated by natural means or any of the forces of nature.  People often point to the ideas of Darwin and what modern evolutionary biologist call the 'modern synthesis' but these theories nor any others suggested cannot explain first the origin of life nor the great complexity of life we now see.  Things have certainly changed in the last 4 billion years but we do not know why.  So the best one can say, it is a mystery.  That would be the good scientific answer.

Second, along these lines there is no proof or even good theory to explain the uniqueness of human life.  What we have are some bones from extinct species and lots of speculation.  But speculation is not science.  It may lead to some good ideas that end up explaining some unknowns.  Maybe some day we will find some good explanations but as of now, it is as I have just said, only speculation.  I support all efforts in this area as it might reveal more about the wonders of human nature which is truly a gift from God.

Third, I believe that the exact effects of global warming are unknown.  There definitely does seem to be some global warming in recent years but how much and its causes are still under investigation.  During the last century the oceans have risen about 1 foot and no one in the world thought this was a problem.  In the mean times hundreds of millions have been killed in wars and hundreds of millions more have died prematurely due to lack of food, poor water supply, inadequate health care, poor education and abortion.  The amount of money proffered by many to fight global warming would change the climate forecast almost nil in the next 100 years and would spend trillions of dollars on inadequate efforts as I said, will have little if any effect.  For this amount of money it would be possible to provide clean water to almost all the planet, raise education standards, and ensure adequate food for all.  People who emphasize the current programs for global warming have their priorities misplaced.  It is seems to be just a political wedge as opposed to true concern for our fellow human beings.  Our money is best spent elsewhere and unless we get our own fiscal house in order there will be no money for anything let alone saving the planet.''
Marie Rehbein
6 years ago
If it's too late to stop global warming, or if it is beyond our capabilities to stop it, then I agree with JR that we should just make the best of what we have for the short time that is left; sort of like hospice for the inhabitants of earth - human, animal, and plant.

However, I think we are more than capable to cutting our carbon emissions by the use of wind, water, and sun, and that if we put as much money into this as we do into extracting oil, gas, and coal, it is possible that we would have a thriving economy plus a habitable planet.


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