The main reason the debate was awful

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images I heartily second Blake (and the rest of the country from what I can tell) in feeling infuriated with the questions in last night’s debate. In particular, “Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?” was a low point in the history of political journalism. But in all ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
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595404_080417_debate22.jpg

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

I heartily second Blake (and the rest of the country from what I can tell) in feeling infuriated with the questions in last night’s debate. In particular, “Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?” was a low point in the history of political journalism.

But in all honesty, I have a hard time imagining that the 21st debate of the primary season could possibly have been useful or informative. After more than a year of campaigning, what new information are we possibly going to learn about these people beyond idiotic non-scandals like “bitter,” Wright, Tuzla airport, or last night’s underwhelming Bill Ayers bombshell?

Andrew Sullivan writes:

No questions on the environment, none on terror, none on interrogation, none on torture, none on education, none on spending, none on healthcare, none on Iran … but four separate questions in the first hour about a lapel-pin, Bitter-gate, Wright-gate and Ayers. I’m all for keeping candidates on their toes. But this was ridiculous. And now we have affirmative action? Again, it’s not illegitimate as such – but the only reason it is asked is to try and trip these people up and make Gibson and Stephanopoulos look smart.”

Amen. But are we really that unsure about Clinton or Obama’s positions on the issues he mentions? I fear that extended discussion of these topics would have descended into the pointing out of minor inconsistencies that characterized last night’s inane capital-gains tax discussion.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t issues that are under-addressed. A question about the relationship between biofuels and food prices or intervention in Darfur might have been nice, for instance. But I really can’t imagine either candidate going out on a limb by making a firm commitment or even saying anything of substance in response. At this point it’s safe to say that Clinton and Obama have made their respective cases. The longer this primary goes on, the more trivial it will become.

Readers, please prove me wrong. What are some substantive, non-gotcha questions that could have spurred some real debate last night?

Joshua Keating is a former associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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