On Thursday in Miami, the first presidential debate between John Kerry and George W. Bush will kick off a series of candidate forums over two weeks that could ultimately decide who wins the White House. We asked Salon readers to play moderator and submit the questions you most want to see put to the candidates.
We received hundreds of replies. More readers, perhaps unsurprisingly, posed questions for Bush. Many questions were a bit more, shall we say, passionate than the queries we can expect from PBS' Jim Lehrer and the other official moderators. Reader questions for both candidates covered topics ranging from missing WMD to exploding deficits to the social lives of the Bush twins. Below is a sample. Unless the question addresses one candidate specifically, it was intended for both Bush and Kerry. And note to Jim Lehrer -- feel free to crib.
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President Bush: You repeatedly say "the world is safer today." Four years ago, North Korea did not have the bomb, today intelligence estimates it has from two to six. Four years ago, Iran did not have the capability to construct the bomb. Today it is well on the way. Four years ago, Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons, was a relatively stable state. Today its leader has survived several assassination attempts and there are serious questions about links between Islamic fundamentalists and Pakistan's intelligence and military. Afghanistan and Iraq are in the midst of insurgency wars. There is genocide in Sudan. The Palestinian uprising is in its fifth year. Saudi Arabia is less stable than it was four years ago. The number of terrorist attacks is at its highest point in 20 years. Four years ago the U.S. had military and diplomatic options it no longer does. With specific reference to those conditions, how exactly is the world safer today than four years ago?
-- Bill Capossere
President Bush: As a conservative, which are you most proud of:
A) squandering the largest budget surplus the nation has ever amassed;
B) being part of depriving thousands of Americans of their right to have their vote counted;
C) wasting over 1,000 American lives in Iraq in order to keep Americans from realizing that you have failed in your duty as commander in chief to capture our real enemy, Osama bin Laden; or
D) that you have overseen the loss of more than 1 million American jobs?
-- Darrin Siegfried
Neither of you has got where you are today entirely by your own efforts -- nobody does. Both of you, in particular, are children of privilege who have benefited from wealth, in your immediate or extended family. How have you attempted to understand what life is like for the rest of us, whose families and friends can't usually bail out our businesses or pay for our educations? What obligations do you feel by virtue of what you have been given?
-- Michael Turyn
President Bush: It's 2020. You are happy in retirement with Laura, but she develops Parkinson's disease. Would you consent to the use of an embryonic stem cell treatment, developed in Europe outside of your guidelines, to save her life?
-- Thomas O. Crawford
President Bush: Your critics say that you're the type of president who spends yesterday's money, today's money and tomorrow's money, and then you leave the problem for some other president to fix. Are they right? If not, what hard choices are you prepared to make to balance the budget? Will you balance the budget on the backs of the poor, the elderly, at the expense of education? Would you consider rescinding your tax cut for the richest Americans, for example, the ones earning over a million a year? Is balancing the budget even a remote possibility with you?
-- Mike Morang
President Bush: Sen. Kerry has been accused of "flip-flopping." But is it not true that you have "flip-flopped" on issues such as the 9/11 commission; on calling for a U.N. vote on Iraq; on creation of the Department of Homeland Security; on a constitutional amendment on gay marriage; on use of the military for "nation building"; on the issue of tax credits for hybrid automobiles; on extending the assault weapons ban; on steel tariffs; on spending the Social Security surplus; on the patient's right to sue; on the federal government's position on tobacco buyout; on disarmament incentives to North Korea; on lobbying OPEC; on the Condoleezza Rice testimony before the 9/11 commission; on your pledge to issue regulations based on science; on the presence of WMD in Iraq; on restricting free trade; on the importance of capturing Osama bin Laden; on mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions; on an investigation into intelligence failures in Iraq; on summits in the Palestinian crisis; on campaign finance; on providing financial support for the first responders; on military benefits; on who was responsible for the "Mission Accomplished" sign; on the fingerprinting and photographing of Mexicans entering the U.S.; on your positions on stem cells and human embryos; about your support of the Low Income Energy Support Program; your position on abortion; on racial profiling?
-- Carlene Kruell
Sen. Kerry: You investigated major scandals like BCCI and Iran-Contra. In both cases, drug money and the associated violence and corruption were involved. Given that prohibition nurtures a violent and corrupt black market, and given that the most effective remedy for drug abuse is treatment rather than incarceration, why do you still support the failed war on drugs? Wouldn't it be better to flush the money out of the drug trade by bringing it out of the black market and letting competition erode the profit margins?
-- Alex Small
President Bush: How do you reconcile the reality of Iraq -- the spiraling costs due in part to the graft and corruption of the vice president's former employer Halliburton, the deprivations our soldiers and their families face, the kidnappings and beheadings of civilian contractors, the popular unrest and general insecurity -- with your "Mission Accomplished" statement of over a year ago? What exactly was the mission? Was the mission chaos? Was it broken lives and families? Was it death and destruction of innocents? If not, please clarify what exactly has been accomplished, other than installing another puppet regime, much like that of Saddam Hussein the last time we meddled in Iraq.
-- Ann Mulhearn
President Bush: As a father of a soldier (exactly your twins' age) who served in Iraq and saw terrible violence, I am curious if the images of your daughters' enjoying the nightlife in New York recently don't disturb you as being inappropriate due to the times we are in? Do you feel they could perhaps exhibit more decorum?
-- Peter Hansen
President Bush: Why have you held a historically low number of press conferences, and why do you only allow party loyalists into your campaign stops? Shouldn't all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, be allowed to see the president of the United States speak and to ask tough questions?
-- Tim Ashlock
President Bush: In 2000 you promised that your tax cuts would create 6 million jobs, yet you are on track to becoming the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose jobs during his administration. In light of this, wouldn't it be fair to say your tax cuts have failed to fulfill their purpose?
-- Luis Hestres
Our current rationale for our unilateral invasion of Iraq has changed from the gathering threat of Saddam Hussein's WMD when it was found that there were no weapons, to liberating the Iraqi people, to safeguarding "universal human rights," as President Bush recently told the U.N. If that is the case, why isn't the U.S. taking unilateral action in the Sudan and sending in troops to stop what Secretary Powell has rightly called a "genocide" in the Darfur region in which Muslims are killing thousands of Africans? If a multilateral approach fails, as the beacon of liberty around the world, what does the U.S. propose to do about the crisis?
-- Josh Grossberg
President Bush: Why has your administration been so secretive? Why, for instance, did you deny access to presidential records when you first took office? Why did Cheney have a secret meeting to discuss our country's future energy policy and why fight tooth and nail against exposing what went on? Why did you refuse to be under oath when testifying to the 9/11 commission (which you opposed) and why did you need Cheney with you? Why have you had so few news conferences where you answer questions from the press? What do you have to hide? Then there are a few thousand other questions, starting with: "Mr. President, how dare you?"
President Bush: A recent international poll conducted jointly by the University of Maryland found that, in 30 out of 35 countries, the people overwhelmingly oppose your reelection, and in only one nation (the Philippines) is there majority support for you over Sen. Kerry. Your reelection is opposed by all of our traditional democratic allies by anywhere from 2-1 in Japan, 3-to-1 in Great Britain, 4-to-1 in Canada, all the way up to 10-to-1 or more in the Netherlands, Norway and France. And in this hemisphere, there is not one nation surveyed where Sen. Kerry is not heavily favored. Other recent polls show that in many Islamic nations, especially those in the Mideast, you have lower approval ratings than Osama bin Laden. Given that both you and Sen. Kerry believe that we need more help from out democratic allies as well as from Iraq's neighbors, please tell us why you think you will be more successful in getting the help you both acknowledged is needed.
-- Paul Lukasiak
President Bush: Why is it that you and your spokespersons have now begun to refer to all the adversaries in Iraq and the rest of the world as terrorists? Is there not a difference between a rebel, a freedom fighter, a foreign fighter or even a protester? Were our colonial forefathers terrorists because they opposed the current government?
-- Jim Chiavelli
President Bush: Congress just extended the tax cuts passed during your tenure, except that most specifically beneficial to low-income Americans, the child tax credit. Do you unequivocally approve of this move? If so, what do you say to those who have lost this benefit and will pay more? If not, explain why you did not intervene in the process to make sure the extension is what you want?
-- Jonathan Friedman
President Bush: In the event the Supreme Court reverses Roe vs. Wade during your second term, your leadership will be crucial. How will you guide our country toward the criminalization of abortion? Should pregnancy termination be treated as a federal crime, enforced primarily by FBI, or a state issue, regulated by local law enforcement? Will you seek to criminalize only the doctors providing the illegal procedure, or the women who seek it out as well? What penalties will you advocate to ensure the successful prohibition of abortion? Fines? Prison sentences? And, finally, what guidance will you seek when you make these difficult, far-reaching decisions?
-- Sean O'Brien
President Bush: In 1972, the Armed Services were begging for men like you. The country was at war, and you approved of the war. Why didn't you enlist?
-- Rich Procter