Last night was the first presidential debate this election cycle. First debates tend not to sway any voters, but President Obama's performance worried many progressives. Regardless of what pundits are saying this morning, I don't think the president's admittedly lackluster performance is the big story here.
This morning I look back at those 90 minutes and see missed opportunities. I'm not talking about zingers and comebacks and how the candidates looked on stage. Those of us who care about women's rights, Medicare, marriage equality, green energy, climate change and other issues felt left out of the conversation. Those of us who care about taxes, Medicare, and the issues that were actually asked felt insulted at the lack of depth in the questions asked.
Watching the hashtag #ShouldaAsked last night, I've come up with 6 questions that Jim Lehrer should have challenged Mitt Romney on.
#1: Define privatization of Medicare.
This was one area that I felt Lehrer did a moderately decent job holding Romney accountable. He did ask if he believed in a voucher program. He did. Mitt, instead of saying "yes," answered the question in a nuanced explanation of a very rosy experience on what my generation (I'm 31) would face when we will rely on Medicare.
Hold up. Romney has been clear on this in the past. When he says "privatize" he means "voucherize." A voucher is a bond that is worth a limited monetary value. Like a coupon. As in a "limited time offer" or "Not valid with other offers." What he didn't tell you is that this "choice" leaves you very few options when you have frequent medical needs. I'll tell you why Mitt didn't answer with an affirmative when it came to his voucher plan -- because, in a poll commissioned by DFA, we found that 1 in 3 Americans do not support a voucher program. There goes Florida.
I'd like to have Lehrer ask about the fine print for these Medicare coupons.
#2: While you were running for Senate in Massachusetts you said were stronger on LGBT rights than Ted Kennedy. Do you still believe you're a strong advocate for LGBT Americans?
This is a great question if the moderator is searching for a contrast. President Obama has been a staunch advocate for fairness for all Americans, including the LGBT community. When he came out for marriage equality this summer, something changed. Poll after poll showed the tide turning. When the President allowed men and women in the armed services to continue to serve the country they love while still being true the person they loved, Americans overwhelmingly approved. A majority of Americans now support the freedom to marry.
Lehrer should have asked, but didn't, where Romney is on these big issues. And it's a good question, since he's been all over the place. Running for Senate against Ted Kennedy, Romney claimed he'd be a better advocate for the LGBT community in Massachusetts. Mitt has never been a strong -- or even stable -- supporter of LGBT equality. This year, with the freedom to marry on the ballot in four states, I'll believe the guy who has stated on television for the entire country to hear that my commitment to my fiancé is the same as his.
#3: If you had 50 dollars for a week, how would you choose to spend it?
Romney has shown that he's disconnected from everyday Americans. Gov. Granholm used the #ShouldaAsked hashtag demanding answers from Mitt Romney on the tough choices his tax plan would require lower income folks to make. Would he use $50 dollars to fill up his tank of gas to drive to work for a week; would he use the $50 dollars to buy groceries, or would he spend $50 dollars on a much needed prescription for his child? It is clear that Mitt Romney never had to make these tough choices. When you've got Swiss bank accounts and taxfree accounts in the Cayman Islands you are out of touch with not only 47 percent of Americans but, more likely, with everyone but the 1%.
Another way of asking this question might have been to ask what he thinks "middle income" really means. Recently on ABC's Good Morning America, George Stephanapoulos asked Romney if "Is $100,000 middle income?". Mitt's reply was "No," and he went on to define middle-income as $200,000 to $250,000. That's actually the top 3 percent.
Perhaps that is all you can expect from the guy who makes casual $10,000 bets.
#4: Can you explain why you believe "clean coal" is a solution to our energy needs?
Before I joined Democracy for America I worked on environmental issues. One of the myths that got my blood boiling was the idea of "clean coal." Coal-fired power plants create significant amounts of pollution -- approximately 2.6 billion tons of carbon emissions in a single year and around one third of our CO2 production overall. Even dirtier than that, "clean coal" is associated with mountaintop removal, mercury contamination and lung cancer. Don't be fooled, there's nothing clean about "clean coal."
Frankly, I'm not thrilled with either candidate on this issue, making this a question that -- if asked -- could have really lit a fire under voters.
#5: Explain how "Emergency Room Care" would benefit the lives of those losing coverage due to the proposed repeal of Obamacare?
At this point, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and was upheld by a conservative court to be constitutional. While I worked alongside our million plus members to make the Affordable Care Act include a public option, any vehicle delivering universal coverage for all Americans is an important first step forward. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney would repeal Obamacare "on his very first day in office." He made the ridiculous point that we do allow universal coverage for all because people have the option of going to the emergency room. I'm not joking. More than 60 percent of people who declare bankruptcy do so because they are drowning in medical bills. This doesn't sound like a valid health care policy, or even sound economic policy. Surely, we might have all benefited from Romney explaining more about his proposed repeal.
#6: Big Bird? Really?!
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the one topic echoed everywhere on social media platforms across the country. Don't. Mess. With. Big. Bird.
No, I'm serious, and it's not just Big Bird, or even PBS. Romney's disdain for all things public is so deep that it blinds him from seeing any redeeming value in the most hallowed, most socially redeeming projects America has come up with. Mitt's disdain for Social Security, Medicare, Public School and Public Broadcasting runs deep, and he proved that last night. America needed to see how myopic this kind of thinking has become. And yes, I think Mitt's throwaway comment about Big Bird symbolizes this. He brought it up, so I think we could have asked a question about this deep disdain.
We may never get the answers to the questions not asked in last night's debate. But at DFA we're working hard to make sure the questions you thought should have been asked get answered. Join in the conversation on twitter using #ShouldaAsked, and I'll continue to answer the questions Mitt Romney so eloquently sidestepped.
Follow Arshad Hasan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ArshadHasan