As we reported last week, Roy Moore challenged Luther Strange to a “mano a mano” debate with no moderators or panelists, Strange accepted, and it looks like that will finally take place. The showdown is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the RSA Activity Center in Montgomery, and Raycom Media will provide a live stream of the event.
This event will be interesting for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the vast majority of attention surrounding this campaign has centered not on what Roy Moore and Luther Strange know, believe, and intend to do as U.S. Senators, but on their associations. In an incredibly important election at a crucial time in history, there’s been very little issue-based vetting.
Meanwhile, each campaign’s spin on who’s an insider and who’s not, who’s gained the latest endorsement and so forth has been incessant. And it seems to be working. In both camps, these narratives are controlled by power players outside of Alabama that seem to have captivated the minds of the voters, while the dearth of substantive discussions is glaring.
The question is, will tomorrow night’s debate change this? Will voters finally gain a reasonable understanding of how each candidate views key issues and how each would work on behalf of Alabama to make America great again? Don’t hold your breath.
Clearly, the Lincoln-Douglas debates hold weighty historical significance, but Douglas used ad hominem attacks to discredit Lincoln, detracting from his views on the issues, and no one will be surprised if such diatribes predominate tomorrow night’s event as well. Moreover, as powerful as the Lincoln-Douglas debates were for a host of reasons, they were not debating as much they were giving speeches.
Perhaps that’s why most debates are conducted in the modern format—because the public needs to hear candidates answer questions that force them to abandon their platitudes and talking points and prove their fitness with substantive answers. In lieu of flimsy lines like “I support the President’s agenda” or “I’m going to drain the swamp,” it would be nice if both candidates could provide answers to questions like:
• The President wants to reduce the corporate tax rate from its current suffocating rate of 35 percent down to 15 percent. I’m sure you both agree that this much-needed tax cut would result in more jobs and greater economic development. However, if liberal Republican Senators like Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) would vote for a 20 percent rate but not 15 percent, would you concede that to get a much lower overall rate, or would you vote against the measure if you can’t get it all the way down to 15 percent?
• We all know that President Obama left a dumpster fire in the middle east. Both of you surely agree that we need to prevent Afghanistan from becoming the terrorist breeding ground it was before 9/11. To that end, Iraq taught us that walking away isn’t the answer, but neither is full-on nation building. Therefore, do you support the “train and assist” strategy as a way to ensure that the U.S. has just enough troops in the all the right places to enable the Afghan military to grow into an effective fighting force to support a self-sustaining Afghan government? The lives of young American soldiers hang in the balance, so if you do support that view, please tell the voters why you believe this is a viable strategy.
• Social Security is technically solvent, only because it’s funded by a trust fund made up of IOU’s, and we all know this won’t last long. Last December, Congressman Sam Johnson (R-Texas) introduced a social security reform bill that seems to lay out a decent path forward. However, one of its provisions requires gradually increasing the age at which retirees receive full benefits. Would you be willing to tell Alabama voters that you support increasing this retirement age as a concession to help social security remain solvent? Whether yes or no, tell us how and why you’ve reached this conclusion.
Yes, these off-the-cuff questions could be replaced with dozens of others, but that’s exactly the point. Being a U.S. Senator often means living in the weeds of highly technical policy issues and wrestling with seemingly untenable decisions like increasing the age of social security benefits to keep it solvent, or settling for a weaker bill than you hope for, but one that’s still far better than the present law.
Of course, this does not mean compromising moral standards or constitutional principles. That’s a given. In the real world of Capitol Hill, however, it often means give-and-take on policy matters. That’s why having the knowledge, wisdom, and foresight to know when to die on a hill and when to make a concession means everything for a U.S. Senator, especially when they generally agree on many issues as is the case with Strange and Moore. The real questions voters should be demanding is, how do you take those views and govern effectively?
Unfortunately, it looks like those are answers we’ll never know until the votes are cast next Tuesday. If it’s any solace, however, the entertainment value tomorrow night in Montgomery will no doubt be high!