What’s the most important presidential debate question?

by Gloria Feldt on September 27th, 2012
in Election Watch, Leadership, Politico Arena, Politics, Power, Women & Politics and tagged , , ,

Bring on the hot wings and beer. My favorite contact sport event is coming up October 3.  I hope it’ll inspire tailgate parties all over the country.

No, I haven’t become a football fan after years of avoiding it. I’m talking about the first presidential debate. It should be required watching for all voters—that would be a far better qualification for voting than requiring picture identification.

What if you were the debate moderator, what do you think would be the most important question you’d ask?

Politico’s Arena, where I post regularly, asked about that yesterday, and also quizzed the panel on whether voters should expect fireworks or calm, polished debate. I wondered, what fun would it be without some fireworks. PBS’s Jim Lehrer will moderate this debate, the first of two debates between the presidential candidates.

I’m sure there will be many questions about their respective economic plans, as there should be. But in my response, I addressed the way questions are asked as well as the content.

Most of the time when I’m cheering and booing from the debate sidelines, I’m annoyed with the moderators’ softball questions that have too little follow up to get the candidates beyond their talking points.

Voters deserve a reasoned, polished debate, but also one that forces Obama and Romney to elucidate their most passionate convictions. That requires the moderator to frame questions specifically, not in general terms. And then to ask the second question, or the third follow up if necessary to get to the nut of each candidate’s answer.

For example, candidates will undoubtedly be asked their positions on women’s reproductive rights, health, and justice. But usually the questions are framed as being only about abortion rather than the full spectrum of access to women’s health and who gets to make childbearing decisions—women or politicians. As Carole Joffe, author of Dispatches from the Abortion Wars and UC Davis professor emeritus, explains in her recent post “Debate Questions That Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan Need to Be Asked” :

“[H]ow the question is phrased and how much pushback a moderator is willing to do to with evasive candidates are very crucial. For example, a moderator who simply asks Romney, in general terms, to comment on his well-known changing views on abortion will set the latter up for a platitudinous answer about ‘realizing that this is a difficult issue for many’ and that his own views have ‘evolved.’ Such a broad question will not be as effective in communicating to the audience what actually are the policy stakes in this election…for Mitt Romney, his eager endorsement of a Personhood Amendment took place only a year ago — and therefore is much more relevant to voters than his flip-flopping on abortion that took place after his 1994 Senate run.”

What frustrates debate viewers more than whether there are fireworks or calm discussions is whether the moderators ask the hard questions and keep probing until the candidates give meaningful answers. I have much more faith in Candy Crowley to be an incisive moderator than I have in the more phlegmatic Jim Lehrer.

Will you be watching with me on October 3?

What question will you be hoping Lehrer asks?

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

One Response to What’s the most important presidential debate question?

  1. Aletha says:

    I imagine there will be some question related to abortion in one of the debates, but most questions I would like to hear I expect will remain off the table, since the candidates agree too closely on them. One example pertinent to the debate tonight, amid all the bickering over deficits and wasteful spending, is how does maintaining the strongest military the world has ever known, as Obama puts it, benefit anybody outside the military-industrial complex? Our politicians can bluster all they want about how our military keeps us safe, but I beg to differ. Just as trying to keep up with us in the arms race shattered the Soviet Union, the US economy is teetering on the edge of a similar abyss, in no small measure because of all the money wasted on military supremacy. Certainly the rampant financial speculation played its part, but the deregulation of the financial industry that allowed that to happen, which Democrats love to blame on George Bush, was initiated by Bill Clinton.

    I hate to agree with mainstream pundits, but I have to agree Romney put on a strong performance tonight. Not that I agreed with hardly anything he said, but he was on his game.

Take The Lead Presented and Connected in 2014—and Wants Your Suggestions for 2015

IMG_6939-X3Understanding the Role Confidence Plays Would workplaces become more balanced and society more equitable if women exhibited more confidence? Katty Kay and Claire Shipman created a stir with their book The Confidence Code and their article, “The Confidence Gap” in The Atlantic. To continue this important conversation, we were honored to have Shipman speak to the Take The Lead community in July about how personal confidence relates to women advancing in the workplace and in society. Yes, women face very real barriers, no matter how confident we are, but leading with confidence expands our possibilities in ways that change our lives and the lives of other women. (Like this quote? Tweet it!) Did you attend this event with Shipman? What did you learn? This confidence question will surely be an ongoing conversation, so we’d love to hear your thoughts! TakeTheLead-80-X3The Solution to Feeling Stuck: Get a Coach! At Take The Lead we teach women to define their lives and careers on their own terms. But history has also told us how crucial it is to seek help when we need it. That’s why we were so excited to gather some of the best coaches we know for an event in NYC sponsored by the fabulous ALEX AND ANI. Alisa Cohn, Robyn Hatcher, Bonnie Marcus, Dana Balicki, Audrey S. Lee, Maggie Castro Stevens, and Leslie Grossman joined us to share their wisdom and generously donate hours of coaching time to attendees. See photos from the event and learn more here. 15777710358_506c524d16_o-X3Circling Up! One way we achieve leadership parity at Take The Lead is by working with women across all backgrounds, generations, and professional fields. And we’re proud to collaborate with a larger resurgent women’s movement. One way we create connections among women is through our online Take The Lead Community. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do so to network and get honest, actionable advice from other accomplished women having valuable conversations. Soon we’ll be adding a mentoring component you won’t want to miss. Gearing Up for 2015 Stay in touch with Take The Lead by signing up for our newsletter, and following us Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Thanks again to everyone who joined us this year and stay tuned for exciting developments in 2015! Remember! Please take a moment in the comments section to tell us what’s bugging you, highlight learning topics you want to see in our webcasts, courses, or blog, and suggest experts you admire. You can also tweet us at @takeleadwomen using the hashtag #takeleadwomen2015. If you’re moved by the work Take The Lead does to give women and men true parity across all sectors, it’s not too late to donate to enable us to Teach, Connect, and Present to more people next year. Read more about our strategy for change, Take The Lead’s 4 keys to leadership parity, here.