In late December 1959, Senator John F. Kennedy was annoyed by a news report that he was committed to running for president. Which, of course, he was — as everyone knew. The point is that Kennedy thought it bad form to announce so early. So his staff (as one headline writer put it) pulled back “a hat prematurely thrown into the ring.”
Those were the days.
The 2008 presidential campaign began, formally, in January 2007. Informally, it began before sundown last November 7, the day of the mid-term congressional elections and a full two years before the 2008 presidential balloting. This is, frankly, ridiculous.
But given the fund-raising imperatives of running for president these days, it’s also probably inevitable. So let’s try to make lemonade out of lemons and raise the level of the “discourse,” which, to date, has been rather downmarket, if occasionally entertaining.
Herewith, questions to be put to any presidential candidate with whom you’re in contact:
Iran: Iran is, at most, a few years away from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. The Iranian government today is led by an apocalyptic who seems quite serious in his belief that incinerating the State of Israel — even if that would involve the retaliatory incineration of Iran — would be worthwhile, because it would hasten the coming of the messianic age. Iran with nuclear weapons would be an unprecedented danger: a nuclear power with a passion for martyrdom. What do you propose to do to forestall Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s doomsday scenario?
Iraq: Is the war in Iraq a singularity, or is it part of the fabric of the global struggle against Islamic jihadism? If you believe it’s a singular situation, why do so many jihadists think otherwise? If Iraq is one front in a global contest, how do you imagine the U.S. end-game in Iraq shaping the rest of the struggle?
Defunding jihadism: One reason why Wahhabism and other jihadist ideologies have traction in the 21st century is that the West has transferred trillions of dollars to people who have exported radical Islamism around the globe. This is suicidal. What can be done about our dependency on Middle East oil — not in the next 20 or 30 years, but in the next ten?
Hearts and minds: Do you think it’s a good idea for U.S.-funded Arab-language radio to broadcast Britney Spears, J. Lo. and Eminem throughout the Arab world? Is this the best story we can tell about our culture and its values?
The Life Issues: Are you aware that embryonic stem-cell research has yet to produce a single clinical application, while dozens of cures have been effected with adult stem-cell therapies? Do you agree that the oversell of embryonic stem-cell research is cruel? What should the U.S. government do to accelerate the development of therapies based on non-embryo-destructive stem cells?
Do you believe that Roe v. Wade was rightly decided? Would you nominate Supreme Court justices who think that Roe v. Wade was rightly decided? Would you ask potential Supreme Court nominees whether they agreed with Justice Byron White (a Kennedy appointee) that Roe was an act of “raw judicial usurpation”?
Europe’s experience demonstrates that, where euthanasia is permitted, euthanasia will soon be required. What will you do, in health care policy and federal judicial nominations, to prevent America from becoming inhospitable to the so-called “burdensome” elderly?
Education: Why does the United States do such a poor job in its elementary and secondary schools, measured by the standards of other information-age societies? Are you “pro-choice” when it comes to parents being empowered to choose the best education for their children? If so, do you support vouchers, tax credits, or some other form of financial aid that “follows the child,” irrespective of whether the school the child attends is religious? Is something awry when colleges and universities accumulate multi-billion-dollar tax-free endowments but charge their undergraduates $50,000 (at least) per year?
Partisanship: Do you agree that there is “partisan division” in Washington because there are real disagreements about serious issues?
Roots: Is the presidency, for you, an ambition, a job, or a vocation?
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.