32 Crowdsourced Questions for the Presidential Debates

A sample of what The Atlantic's readers want the moderators to ask Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

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Yesterday, I made a plea for better questions for presidential debates. Here's what you came up with:

1) Can you describe legislation which you think would be good for the country if only it could be legally enacted, but which is unconstitutional?

2) What lessons do you, as current (or potential) commander-in-chief, take from America's war in Iraq? If you think the war was a mistake, how will you conduct our foreign policy to avoid a repeat of that experience? If you still stand by American intervention, why was it a good idea?

3) Wade Michael Page, Nidal Malik Hasan, and Robert Bales were either currently enlisted or military veterans. The rate of suicide by veterans is at an all-time high. As the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, what specific steps would you take to deal with the mental health crisis affecting our soldiers and veterans?

4) In your job as POTUS, you will be responsible for managing one of the largest annual budgets in the country. I am curious how you would manage one of the smallest. Pretend for a moment that you lived in Oregon where the minimum wage is $8.80/hour. Imagine that you are working full-time for minimum wage. Your annual income, before taxes, would be $18,304. This would give you a monthly salary of $1525.33 (again though it would probably be less as no taxes have been deducted). If you were so lucky as to find an apartment for $650/month and rode the bus to and from work everyday, that would leave you with $787.83 for ALL of your expenses. How would you manage that budget? What would you do, if anything, to get assistance?
5) Government serves as a risk-sharing mechanism. Our tax dollars are pooled to protect individuals and communities against unforeseen catastrophes be they medical, environmental or financial. Is this an appropriate function for government? By what principles should the appropriate breadth and subject-area of this risk-collectivization be defined? Are there specific areas where the government is providing "too much" insurance? Are there areas where it is not providing enough?

6) What specific lessons does experience in business provide? Which of these pertain to the office of the president? Mr. Romney, you have emphasized your time in the private sector as your main credential for the job (even though you have governed a state). But you have not been specific. What exactly do you understand about the economy that Mr. Obama does not? How would you have addressed the financial and economic crises of 2008? Please keep in mind that lowering taxes and regulations have been Republican policy ideas in good times and bad. What special insight would you, as a businessman, have been able to provide to our country in that unique situation?

7) Mr. Romney, you have stated your support for a constitutional amendment requiring any candidate for president to have worked for at least three years in a business in the private sector. Why did you select a running mate that does not qualify for president under the standards you would like to see imposed on future candidates?

8) What is your position on establishing an independent, nonpartisan commission to investigate the authorization and use of forms of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in counterterrorism efforts?

9) President Obama, your administration reportedly considers all military age males in "conflict zones" (i.e., places the U.S. is bombing) to be enemy combatants until proven otherwise. If true, how has your administration arrived at such a conclusion? Moreover, how do you reconcile such a policy with the protections granted to civilians under the Geneva Convention? If this is not true, then how do you define an "enemy combatant"? Can minors be enemy combatants and thus subject to drone strikes? 

10) Is it realistic to think that we can kill all of the "terrorists"? If so, how do you plan on doing so? If not, what is your plan?

11) Does every law-abiding citizen have a right to food, a right to shelter, a right to education and a right to healthcare provided by the federal government? Otherwise stated, does the U.S. government owe each person a house, a meal, a college degree and the healthcare they require?

12) President Obama, you recently you issued an executive order stating that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement is to exercise prosecutorial discretion regarding the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants that came to the U.S. as children, are under 30 years old, and have a high school degree. Why did you wait until 3.5 years into your presidency to issue such an order?  How do you respond to those who claim that this is a cynical, non-binding agreement that can be reversed at any time and does not compensate for the record number of non-criminal undocumented immigrants who have been deported in EVERY year of your administration? Do you believe that non-criminal, undocumented immigrants over 30 should be deported? Does it matter if they have U.S. citizen minor children? 

13) How do you explain the disparity in incarceration rates for non-violent drug offenses between minorities and Caucasians? Is it a matter of police misconduct, a symptom of more widespread inequity or are minorities inherently more likely to comment felony drug offenses than other races? On a related point, the U.S. has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of its prisoners. Are American citizens more likely than other populations to commit crime?  If not, how do you explain this?

Presented by

Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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