What we must ask the candidates

What we must ask the candidates
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The first presidential debate, or more aptly the yelling match, last month by any standards was an embarrassment to all Americans, to the office of the president, and to our nation in front of every other country in the rest of the world. Moreover, our stature in the world, and thus our capabilities, were diminished by that spectacle. Moderator Chris Wallace tried to focus the debate on six different categories, but he raised predictable issues for which the two candidates could practice their answers.

There is, however, another crucial set of issues that should be addressed. They are about the character, judgment, behavior, honesty, and integrity of both of the candidates. Given the complex nature of the world and the ramifications in the actions of the president, we must understand how the candidates think and make decisions. The president of the United States is the most powerful individual in the world. Indeed, the responsibilities encompass much more than simply individual policies.

The responsibilities encompass personal standing, the respect held as our leader, and the ideas set through actions. American democracy is a messy proposition. It was purposely designed to have such competing interests negotiate with each other. It can be slow and cumbersome, but it tends to yield the best outcomes for our citizens and the nation. To this end, there are several important issues that were not addressed with either the first presidential debate or the vice presidential debate that must be raised in any final debate between Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE and Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE.


The final debate should have a focus on the character of the candidates. How do you make decisions? Do you talk with experts and read reports? Do you listen to sensible advisers? How do you balance bias with facts? We should ask them to name a few people for whom they have the most respect. Who is the wisest person you know? Who do you trust and why? We should understand how they make crucial decisions.

We should ask each of them to reflect. What is the worst decision you ever made? What is the most difficult decision you ever made? Name one issue that you should have acted on more forcefully. Under what circumstances outside of a lost election would you give up office? Why do you want to be president? What is the difference between the truth and facts? Is empathy important? The president represents all Americans and not just those who agree with or support him or her. Do you agree with this?

A new administration tends to face one or two issues. But our president in January will face more issues. At home, they include a troubled economy, the coronavirus, health care, and racism. In the world, we must repair our alliances and confront threats from rogue nations like Iran, China, Russia, and North Korea. These problems will confront the next president at the same time, while some foreign adversaries in particular will aggressively take advantage of it and sow discord wherever they can.

The character and skills that a president needs are wide and demanding, and they include civility, decisiveness, the capacity to listen, the ability to communicate, and respect in the face of differences. Such actions of the president are on display every day. They reflect the values of our country to the world. People describe politics as a sport or entertainment but it is neither. Whether we like it or not, our elected officials, and especially the president, greatly affect our own lives and the country.

We are not psychiatrists, nor do we pretend to be. When we vote for the president, we select policies, but more so we select a person. Americans need to understand how that person reasons and makes decisions. These issues that we pose above should be asked of our public officials, notably the candidates in any final debate, and in future years.

Elliot Stein is the chairman of Acertas and Senturion Forecasting. Douglas Schoen is a consultant and the president of Schoen Cooperman Research.