Voters Deserve Real Debates, Not ‘Gotcha’ Questions

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
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A unique moment for this writer: I agree with the Republican presidential candidates.

At least, I agree with their complaints about most of the questions that the moderators of the primary debates seem obsessed with, too often concerned about a political “gotcha” moment rather than asking about issues and solutions that people care about.

Of course, I can’t resist tweaking the Republican candidates who complain about their questions versus what they describe as “softball” questions directed to the Democrats during their debate. Here are just a few of the questions that CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked the Democratic candidates during their first debate.

“Will you say anything to get elected?” (Hillary Clinton)

“You supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. You honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And just this weekend, you said you’re not a capitalist. Doesn’t that ad write itself?” (Bernie Sanders)

“Why should Americans trust you with the country when they see what’s going on in the city that you ran for more than seven years?” (Martin O’Malley)

“You’ve been everything but a socialist. … A Republican … an independent … a Democrat for little more than two years. Why should Democratic voters trust you won’t change again? (Lincoln Chafee) Chafee responded, “Anderson, you’re looking at a block of granite when it comes to the issues.” To which the moderator replied: “It seems like pretty soft granite.”

I also find myself somewhat amused at the hypocrisy of Republicans whining about biased “liberal media.” Seriously?

They weren’t whining throughout the 1990s when the mostly liberal mainstream media pounded on Bill and Hillary Clinton concerning what turned out to be an utterly bogus non-scandal called Whitewater. (Reminder, despite all-out GOP efforts to make the story into a scandal, the successor to independent counsel Ken Starr, after six years of investigations at a cost of about $60 million, found no wrongdoing by the Clintons regarding Whitewater.)

So maybe not only Republican presidential candidates but Democratic ones as well can all agree — a perfect purple moment!

It’s time all insist that from now on, debate moderators ask more questions about the important issues facing the American people, and ask the candidates to debate their various solutions. And they should show how they will pay for their programs or tax cuts without increasing the now $18 trillion national debt.

In the last six months, Clinton, my favorite candidate, has made detailed speeches not only on such key issues but has proposed specific solutions to these problems. She proposed specific and detailed plans on the following:

  • to lower the cost of prescription drugs;
  • to require comprehensive background checks for gun buyers and eliminate unprecedented immunity laws for gun sellers and manufacturers;
  • to curb the cost of higher education and ease the burden of student debt repayment;
  • to address climate change by committing to install half-a-billion solar panels across the country by 2020 and increase the supply of renewable energy to power every home in America;
  • to attack the problem of income disparity by giving workers a chance to share in the profits they help generate for their employers, as well as cracking down on Wall Street excesses and on shadow banks that are “too big to fail;” and
  • to require equal pay for equal work, family leave and a higher minimum wage.

Not many questions on these and other important issues came from any of the moderators during either the Democratic and Republican debates.

I know moderators have justified their questions when they say, “that’s what’s ‘out there’ and that’s what people are interested in.” They point to the high ratings Donald Trump engenders when he makes his latest insult to minority groups, women or his fellow Republicans, or to the headlines generated when Marco Rubio said the former Secretary of State “lied” about the origins of the 2012 Benghazi tragedy.

Yet the same moderators failed to ask Rubio whether he read the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report that he signed — the one that contradicted his attack on Clinton. The bipartisan panel found that, during the first several weeks after the Benghazi attack, the intelligence community attributed the origins of the incident to both a “spontaneous demonstration … triggered by the anti-Muslim videotape” (the CIA’s exact words) and a planned terrorist attack.

I happen to think the American people are more interested in a serious discussion of the issues and hearing the candidate debate their concrete solutions than insulting each other or responding to “gotcha” questions.

Don’t you?

Lanny Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is executive vice president of the strategic communications firm LEVICK. He is the author of the recently published book “Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life.”