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Debate Questions

There has been a lot of press criticism lately (see Paul Waldman's Tim Russert takedown, Noam's thoughts on Russert, and Matt Yglesias' more general criticisms), and while much of it is sensible, I think the media is getting a little too much blame. Here's Matt:

Great example. An audience member makes the sensible observation that the candidates haven't talked about the Supreme Court and asks them to say something about their approach to picking nominees. I'd be interested to hear the answers to these questions. The journalists decide to change this isn't a pointed question about a Roe litmus test -- gotcha! -- do Democrats violate the "no litmus test" taboo, or do they piss off feminists? Good work! Blah.

Now, maybe Matt is in fact interested to hear the candidates answer this question, even though I am reasonably certain he knows exactly what they are all going to say. Moreover, he knows that whoever happens to be the Democratic nominee will try and nominate justices broadly similar to the court's current liberal justices. And, in fact, some of the candidates did discuss what they would look for in a nominee independent of the abortion issue:

Dodd: "You want people here that are going to have a balanced sense of justice. Obama: "Protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the outsider, the minority, those who are vulnerable. 

How illuminating. The problem, in short, isn't the press; rather, it's that politicians are rarely willing to say anything interesting. And so, frankly, I don't mind the litmus test question because it can give insights into corollary issues (how passionate the candidate is about Roe v. Wade, how close the candidate is to interest groups, etc). The unfortunate fact of presidential campaigns is that getting worthwhile responses from the people running is very, very hard, and straight-up, simple questions are not going to do the trick.

Isaac Chotiner