It's hard to put a good face on the June jobs report. Unfortunately, 80,000 new jobs a month isn't even enough to keep up with population growth and new people coming into the labor market. Even if we were gaining jobs at three times that rate, we wouldn't replace the 8 million jobs lost in the Great Recession for more than six years, according to the jobs calculator developed by the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project.
Everyone expects the next president to do something about this. But so far the candidates aren't inspiring a lot of confidence. So we're introducing "The Question Project," a series of posts dedicated to the proposition that if we as voters don't start asking both presidential candidates some tougher, more probing questions about their plans for the economy and the country, we're not going to get the solutions we need.
We were inspired in this effort by a group we just discovered, The Right Question Institute in Cambridge, Mass. Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana are exploring the role question-asking plays in helping students develop powerful critical thinking skills. Their argument is that "a question can become a sophisticated and potent tool to expand minds, inspire new ideas, and give us surprising power at moments when we might not believe we have any." Right now, their work focuses on teaching, but they believe questions are crucial in politics too. "It's essential to democracy," Rothstein points out. "You want citizens to be able to ask good questions."
You can select a candidate in a dozen different ways: by their party, looks, commercials, endorsements or just as an expression of naked self-interest. But only questions allow us to sort out what candidates think about the things that matter most to us as voters and individuals. Only questions force the candidates to justify themselves to us as custodians of the American dream.
So let's stipulate that in this fall's election, jobs will be issue number one. What questions should voters ask the candidates? We have a few modest suggestions, but be forewarned. We're leaving all questions on Bain Capital and Solyndra to the candidates and their various hangers-on -- just go at it, guys, and get it out of your system. And we'll also be steering clear of questions about the candidates' wives, ministers, churches, childhoods, vacations, and birth certificates. Sad to say, others seem to have those amply covered. We're proposing questions that we believe really matter to most voters and where the answers will likely determine the country's future. You'll surely have your own ideas, and we encourage you to post them in the comments section.
So here goes:
So, Governor Romney and President Obama, we'd like to hear your answers -- with no slogans allowed. In our view, American voters deserve at least this much. And it might be a good idea to put some questions like these to candidates for Congress and the governorships and mayoralties around the nation.
Our point is that Americans are fearful about the country's economic trajectory and deeply worried about whether there will be enough good jobs to sustain their families and their futures. Unfortunately, the electioneering we've seen so far is probably more frustrating and confusing to most voters than it is enlightening.
There's still time, though, to have a good debate about the substance. And if you have some more good questions in mind, let us know. It's time to get a honorable discussion started.
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