Monday, June 04, 2007

Thoughtful and Educated: Too Much to Ask?

I am so sick of presidential candidates being asked questions about their faith. Just today, for example, there’s a piece on CR online [Note: that's Church Report], listing the contenders’ answers to a series of AP queries about “what their religion is, whether there is a particular church that they are a member of, and how often they attend services.” Only Dennis Kucinich had the courage to say that he attends services “not often.”

This evening, a so-called “Progressive Christian” organization named “Sojourners/Call to Renewal” sponsored a forum featuring Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards. While the group's commendable mission is to fight for the poor, its message is, of course, all bollixed up with religion. Thus, the candidates were asked to speak about “faith, moral values, and poverty.” I haven't yet seen a transcript or video, but I'm assuming that some supernatural being was favorably mentioned.

Just once, I would like to see the aspirants to the White House asked questions about values I care about: their views on learning and human achievement. We’ve been through six and a half years of carefully crafted ignorance at the highest levels, and it’s time for a change. So saying, here are my suggestions for questions to be used in a debate on the intellect. Note that these questions are meant to reveal attitudes, rather than specific knowledge.

about Science

  • In what ways would you like science to change the world during your presidency?
  • What do you think are the five most important scientific or mathematical advances in history? Explain your answer.
  • Do you feel that you know enough actual science to make informed decisions about scientific matters? If so, describe your qualifications. If not, whom would you appoint as your science advisers, and why?
  • Do you think scientific information should be subject to opinion polls? Why or why not?
  • What was the last science book you read? What did you learn from it?

about History

  • What five historical events do you think offer the best lessons for Americans today? Explain.
  • What non-American and non-biblical historical figure would you most wish to meet? Why? What questions would you want to ask him or her?
  • If someone were to claim that a nation was founded based on a specific religion, how might you go about determining whether or not that’s true?
  • If you had to choose another historical period to live in, which period would you pick, and why?
  • What was the last non-political history book you read? What did you learn from it?

about the Arts

  • Do you think that studying the works of great artists, musicians, and writers gives people insight into their own lives? Cite examples to support your opinion.
  • Which five works of literature have most molded you into the person you are today? How?
  • What five famous paintings or sculptures — works that you’ve actually seen in a museum — have impressed you the most? What was impressive about them?
  • Name five pieces of music that are neither country, nor rock, nor patriotic songs, nor hymns that arouse feelings in you? What feelings?
  • What great author, musician, or artist could you not live without? If you were forced to do so, what would be missing from your life?

The above questions are all pretty generic. They could be answered truthfully, for better or worse, by any thoughtful, educated person. Faith questions, on the other hand, can be answered truthfully only by those who espouse unreason.


the blogger formerly known as yinyang said...

Awesome! You should mail those questions in to those debate forum people, and all the presidential nominees, too - though I could understand if you waited until after the primaries because of the hike in stamp prices. ;)

Robin said...

I would love to see candidates asked these questions. As it stands, I'm often left with an utter lack of democratic passion around election time (which is the exact opposite of what I would genuinely hope would be the case). I'm passionate about democracy, and completely turned off by American politics because these questions *aren't* asked.

I'd be thrilled if someone found a way to work a list like this into interviewers' notes. (Jon Stewart could probably be easily convinced!)

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Why aren't questions like these asked, I wonder. Too simple? Do they seem irrelevant to the debate forum? I know I'd be far more interested in their responses to these questions than to know how often they attend church services.

Anonymous said...

I would have watched the debates last night if I knew these questions would be asked. The problem is that I don't think I've ever seen a presidential candidate actually answer a question posed to him/her (oooh. I actually get to say "her". I just realized that it's the first time). They give sound bite speeches in response to prepared questions, but we never really know what they really think. Our journalism corps is gutless.

Where is Edward R. Murrow when you really need him?

Anonymous said...

Every year I perform at several dinners and other functions for the various political groups, and from what I've seen and heard, they would probably wonder if you were dicussing cow plop...which most of them probably equate things like justice, liberty, honesty, and empathy with, anyway.

These folks want power or immunity from what the rest of us deal with daily. They don't actually regard the rest of us as the same species, really.

A freind of mine is a local deputy sheriff and he transports prisoners for certain reasons. He told me that many of them have said over the years that if you want to know who's running the local crime scene, just read the billboards down the main shopping strip. I see these same people at every fuction, often for "both parties".

John P, I think that Mr. Murrow would quickly find himself out of work for acts of lese majesty, and like Helen Thomas, last of the old breed, would find himself sidelined at best. People talk about the "liberal media" but they're nothing like it, just a tool. At one point they told an inconvenient truth so they got that tag about forty years ago. That's a handy tool, too.

Two of our local newswomen are married to local politicians, and during the last election they did commercials for their husbands which among other things, excoriated the (gasp!) 'Liberal Media"! And yet they went to work every day and their talking head is prominently on the screen 'distorting' (their words) the news.

Anonymous said...

Can you imagine George Bush's face if he'd been asked any of those questions when he was running? It would have been a picture!

rmacapobre said...

bush: i want my mommy?