Mr. Moderator of the presidential debates, here are questions we would ask of both Al Gore and George W. Bush:
Question No. 1: You two have prepared long and hard for this debate, both in what you will say and how you will say it. Now that you're on stage, tell us where you are weakest regarding the big issues, your government record, or even the way you come across on television.
Our aside: Leadership requires the humility to be aware of your weak points. Being a good president means leveling with the people on where you need help. We can judge whether you're being authentic in answering this question. We wish someone had asked this of Bill Clinton in 1992.
Question No. 2: To win this race, you both have promised many new government programs requiring either more spending or tax credits. Yet, Bill Clinton has declared an "end to the era of big government," echoing his two Republican predecessors. So which way is the US headed: more central government or less?
Our aside: Not every national social problem needs a national solution. America is great largely due to creative solutions in states and localities. Yet Washington seems to be where the money is. Are your fiscal and tax promises just a way to win votes from narrow interests, while you really want less, not more federal involvement in people's lives?
Question No. 3: By its strength and by default, America is being pushed to lead the world. Yet, many Americans are reluctant to do so. What is your checklist of priorities that would come before deploying soldiers abroad for purposes other than protecting our shores?
Our aside: No decision can be tougher for a president. Should such missions be done with allies or the United Nations? And can you persuade Americans to risk lives for a cause other than defense?
Question No. 4: Voters want a president who's a moral example as well as a government leader. At least two of the past six presidents tried to hide falsehoods that jeopardized their jobs. Why would you be any different?
Our aside: Liars can't be leaders, yet lies by politicians have created a cynical, apathetic voting public. We're searching for a way to test a candidate's veracity. Help us.
Question No. 5: America is marked by its diversity. And these debates are set up to deal with a variety of issues. Yet, the commission running these debates refuses to let in third-party candidates unless they reach 15 percent popularity in the polls. Doesn't that skew the debates against the diversity of issues in the US, especially those involving groups that represent less than 15 percent of the population?
Our aside: The two parties have a lock on controlling the debates and don't want third parties to get free TV. They'd rather just co-opt the voters of smaller parties. Is this the way to share public airwaves?
Question No. 6: You both want accountability in education. Would you be willing to take any of the tests now required for high school graduation in many states?
Our aside: You can keep the score to yourself. It's just that millions of kids face not receiving a diploma. If you're asking schools, teachers, and children to improve, how about experiencing a test for yourself?
Question No. 7: Could you not find one woman qualified to be your vice-presidential nominee?
Our aside: Enough said.
Question No. 8: Would you appoint US Supreme Court justices that only see eye to eye with you on abortion and Roe v. Wade?
Our aside: Or is it possible to not politicize appointments with a "litmus test" and instead pick judges who can fairly and wisely interpret the Constitution?
Question No. 9: Can you look the American people in the eye and say tonight that you will never be influenced by the wishes of groups who gave you campaign money?
Our aside: And can you support John McCain's views on campaign finance reform in hopes of ending the corrupting influence of money that casts doubts even on these debates?
Post your questions to the candidates in a Web discussion at www. csmonitor.com/MonitorTalk.
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