Denver Bar Association
January 2008
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President vs. Reality TV: Decision ‘08 — Are you asking the right questions?

by Doug McQuiston

When we last spoke, I lamented the sad state of presidential politics. Has it gotten any better? Let’s take a look:

1) A leading Democratic candidate claims he’s qualified to run our foreign affairs because (like I said last November, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried) he "spent several years living abroad" — between the ages of 8 and 12!

2) Earlier last fall, the other leading Democratic candidate proposed giving every baby born in the United States a $5,000 "baby bond." Great idea, right? Not quite. Aside from sounding uncomfortably like the old days (when Chicago polls bought votes with silver dollars and whiskey), it had another problem: the annual cost would exceed $12,190,600,000! Yep — that’s billion, with a "b." Every year. When that was pointed out, the candidate backtracked faster than the French Army at the Maginot Line during the German invasion in 1940.

3) I’m a conservative, so I focus more on the goofy stuff coming out of the Democratic side. However, as much as it pains me to point out, the Republican candidates have joined in the fun. They’re trying to outdo each other in pointing out how the other guy once favored "sanctuary" for illegal aliens, changed his mind on abortion, secretly supports gay marriage, or only got his National Rifle Association membership card last year. Tax policy? Medicare reform? National security? Sorry, can’t be bothered; we’re too interested in playing "Quien es mas macho?" on Guns, God and Gays.

As the issues become more serious, the campaigns seem to be getting less so. "Nothing to see here, folks," the candidates are saying. "Just move along. Besides, a new season of ‘American Idol’ is about to start. Go back to your big screens. Enjoy the free bread and circus. Pay no attention to the smoke, folks; Rome isn’t really burning!"

Let me be blunt: this is unacceptable, and it’s our fault, not theirs. Our smug, "Colbert Report"-fueled-cynicism no longer is working. It is long past time we all got over ourselves and got to work reclaiming our government.

Presidential politics matter. Who is in the Oval Office matters. Who sits on the Supreme Court matters. You may not be interested in politics and politicians, but you better believe they’re plenty interested in you.

Here are some questions I’d like to see asked of the candidates; you may have others:

  • What do you see as the biggest threat to our national security during the first two years of your first term?

  • What are you going to do about it?

  • Will I be able to collect my Social Security Benefits when I retire at 65? If you say "yes," how, specifically, do you plan to make that happen without taxing my kids so heavily that they go broke or move to Canada?

  • This is a follow-up, targeted to Barack Obama and John Edwards: How much do I have to knock down at work to qualify as "rich," so you can soak me for more Social Security tax? (I already know the answer to this one, and it may surprise all of my moderately well-paid lawyer readers — they mean you, cowboy, and their plans are going to cost most of you more than two grand a year!)

  • How about other taxes — should they be higher or lower? Why?

  • Pick one — free trade or tariffs? Why?

  • The falling dollar: How do we reverse the trend without setting off a recession or ruining our trade balance?

  • How will you curb Congressional pork-barrel spending?

  • Illegal immigration: fence or no fence?

  • Can we win the "War on Terror" without abandoning the Bill of Rights?

And here’s one final question we should make sure we ask each one of them:

  • What are three good things about each of your opponents, in both parties?

But why haven’t these questions already been asked? To figure that out, you only have to identify the campaigns’ target audience. In the past two presidential elections, 45 percent of you favored the Democratic candidate no matter what, and 45 percent of you flipped the Republican switch no matter what. The candidates ignored you. They’re still ignoring you. The battleground was, and still is, in the "undecided" 10 percent middle.

The muddled middle, more than anything, is why campaigns have gotten so toxic. "Swift Boating," 527 issue ads, going negative, getting personal, slinging mud — are all done not to shore up the party faithful, but to grab a few points from voters too stupid, ignorant or uninterested to educate themselves. History gives every sign of repeating itself.

I’m not talking about you careful voters who still are trying to figure out which horse to back. You’ll figure it out by this summer. I’m talking about the voters who are "undecided" in November. They’re not really "undecided"; they’re unengaged. They can’t tell you who is running, but they know who made the finals on "Dancing with the Stars." It wouldn’t be so bad if they just didn’t vote. The problem is, too many of them do. They dutifully will line up next to us in November, and then flip the switch based on whichever negative ad they heard on the way to their local polling place.

Here’s my New Year’s Resolution: By next August, I won’t be undecided. Join me. Start right now. Get engaged. Get informed. Ignore the ads. Become a political junkie. Take the time. Earn your vote. The more we hold the candidates to real campaigning, the better chance we have of getting it right.

If you’ll do that, I promise you we can save the country. We might even change the world. When those planes hit the Twin Towers, they burned a lot more than steel and concrete. They burned my cynicism. We can’t afford it anymore. Whomever becomes the Leader of the Free World matters a whole lot more than who wins custody of Britney’s kids.

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