Questions from the presidential campaign debate moderator and how Lawrence O’Donnell has it so wrong

Moderator with hot air balloon for a headOn the subject of tax returns, Lawrence O’Donnell, with whom I often agree, has the whole idea of the question the debate moderator ought to ask specifically of the Romney/Ryan side…all wrong. To challenge the secrecy of the Romney/Ryan camp, O’Donnell wants to grossly oversimplify with the one word question, “Why?”

To be fair, he did expand the question a bit, but I still think he misses the boat. Why, however framed, is still the kind of open-ended invitation to hot air that the candidates will thrive on.

Governor Romney, given the fact that you found it perfectly reasonable to release twenty-three years of your tax returns to the McCain campaign four years ago when they were considering you for the vice presidential nomination, and given the fact that you demanded to see several years of Paul Ryan’s tax returns to evaluate his fitness to serve as vice president, why shouldn’t voters be able to see your tax returns and Paul Ryan’s tax returns to make the same judgment you did about candidates fitness to serve? Congressman Ryan, you found it perfectly reasonable to show your tax returns to the Romney campaign. Why won’t you let American voters know what’s in those tax returns?

This, in a nutshell, is a perfect example of how I have become disillusioned with the so-called “liberal” media outlet MSNBC and it’s pet talking heads. O’Donnell is an intelligent man, gifted with gravitas and oratory with the occasional bit of tongue in his cheek. He has evidenced, on many occasions, the ability to formulate complex issues relatively clearly, although it’s a pity that he’s likely just preaching to the choir.

Here, however, is a perfect chance for something he says to get heard all the way in the nosebleed section. Should he be able to influence the questions asked by the moderator of the campaign debate, the question asked, how it’s framed, and how the candidates respond would reach both sides of the aisle all the way down to the wingnuttiest segments of both sides of our fake two-party system. That’s a powerful opportunity. And he blew it. “Why?” Really, Lawrence? One word on which to hang the full power of their explanation? We get more rigor in debate at the high school level. Sheesh.

Okay, moderator. Here’s the tax return question this not-so-humble author thinks you should ask:

“Candidates, I have a question in three parts for you on the contentious subject of the release of tax returns for public review in regard to your respective campaigns. We would like you to demonstrate that you can argue the matter from both sides of the matter. Part I: Explain why it is important to the quality of our system of government for candidates to reveal many years of tax returns. Part II: Explain why it is not important to the quality of our system of government for candidates to reveal many years of tax returns. Part III: Explain which approach you have personally chosen and why, given the counter-arguments, you have made that decision.”

Go.

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Image credit: Adapted from photo of speaker at podium by Eduardo Frei Ruiz Tagle, licensed under Creative Commons and photo of hot air balloon by Sean MacEntee, licensed under Creative Commons.

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