Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Jonathan Chait yesterday:

Noah Kristula-Green proposes that a moderator at a Republican presidential debate ask the candidates, "Raise your hand if you have any doubts that President Obama was bor in the United States."

I think Green is on the right track here, but I don't think he has the wording right....

The better wording would be something like, "Raise your hand if you think there is any legitimate reason whatsoever to doubt that President Obama was born in the United States." When questioning individual candidates, a good way to get into the issue would be to ask them first if George W. Bush was born in the United states, then ask about Obama, and then -- if they phrased the latter response in more qualified terms than the former -- ask them why.

I don't really care about the wording -- I'd just like to see them put on record in the debates. (And no, I don't really believwe this is possible -- I assume that if anything like this happens, it will happen in a way that allows ample opportunity for evasions and weasel words.)

But then I move on to Chait's next post, and I see that it chides Herman Cain for saying he wouldn't have Muslims in his administration if he were president. Of course, it's not just Cain -- as Steve Benen reminded us when Cain made this assertion,

In the fall of 2007, [Mitt] Romney said he would not consider Muslim Americans for his cabinet. Indeed, he said this more than once, in front of plenty of witnesses.

How about that as a debate question? "Would you hire Muslim-Americans for your administration, and would you include Muslim-Americans in your cabinet?" Now, this would seem to be a golden opportunity for weasel words ("I'll judge each individual on his or her qualifications...") -- but I think the candidates would feel backed into a corner. I think, in a hotly contested Republican primary at this moment, most of them would feel they had to say no.

I'd like to find out.

Because these debates will be watched by swing voters and (especially) the Beltway media -- which will feel compelled to declare the eventual nominee a sober, rational, within-the-pale person, even if it's Bachmann or Palin or Cain -- I'd love to see a series of crackpot notions raised in the GOP debates. Not just the obvious ones (Do you believe in evolution? Do you believe humans are subject to evolution? Do you believe human behavior is a cause of climate change?), but a few of more recent vintage.

Do you think Islam is a religion subject to First Amendment protections in America? Do you think President Obama is a patriotic American whose primary political loyalties are to the United States? Do you think there's a reasonable likelihood that ACORN will engage in widespread voter fraud in 2012 that will undermine the legitimacy of the elections?

Would the candidates who are trying to have some crossover appeal dare to give non-looney answers to those questions? And if they did, what would happen to them in the primaries afterward?

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