Senator Kerry has been pretty successfully avoiding the media, but sometime between now and November 2 he’ll have to sit down for a far-ranging interview on a program other than The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Thus far, most Kerry interviews have been less-than-penetrating (one recent poll even indicates that nearly a third of the electorate knows very little about John Kerry) and certainly not hostile (in comparison, see, among other things, President Bush’s press conference of last spring). Bill Clinton was subjected to far-greater scrutiny by this time in the 1992 election cycle. Kerry’s legendary policy flip-flops as well as his campaign’s shifting stories related to the current controversy compel questioning at least as tough as that directed at Kerry’s critics.
Here are only a few of the questions Kerry hasn’t adequately addressed. They don’t even have anything to do with swift boats. There are no “gotcha” questions. They’re posed in a respectful manner. In fact, many are softballs. After all, few interviewers would wish to alienate Kerry and foreclose the possibility of follow-up interviews. With that in mind, here goes:
1. The Bush campaign maintains that you spent 20 years in the Senate with no signature legislative achievements. What do you consider to be the five most important pieces of legislation that you’ve authored?
a. What’s the most important piece of legislation regarding intelligence you’ve authored?
b. What’s the most important piece of antiterrorism legislation you’ve authored?
c. What’s the most important piece of health-care legislation you’ve authored?
d. What’s the most important piece of education legislation you’ve authored?
2. You’d agree that on paper, Dick Cheney’s experience and qualifications dwarf those of your running mate. Why would John Edwards make a better president during the war on terror than Dick Cheney?
a. It’s been widely reported that John McCain was your first choice as running mate. If true, why did you prefer Senator McCain to Senator Edwards?
3. Earlier this year you told Tim Russert that you’d release all of your military records, yet you’ve failed to do so and you refuse to release your Vietnam journal. Why shouldn’t the public infer that the contents of these documents would undermine your credibility or otherwise damage your candidacy?
a. When will you release the documents?
4. You’ve stated that you believe that life begins at conception yet you voted against the ban on partial-birth abortions. At precisely what point is a life worth protecting?
a. Is there any limitation on abortion (waiting periods, parental notification) for which you’d vote? If so, what?
5. You’ve promised to repeal much of the Bush tax cut and while in the Senate you voted to raise taxes an average of five times per year. If current economic trends remain largely unchanged during a Kerry presidency, would you seek additional tax increases?
a. How would you raise taxes and what are the highest marginal tax rates that you’d support?
6. You opposed the 1991 Gulf War even though Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, had invaded another country, and France and Germany had supported the war. In the current conflict no WMDs have been found, France and Germany oppose the action, and Saddam hadn’t invaded another country. Yet you recently stated that knowing what you know now, you’d nonetheless authorize the use of force–even though you voted against funding it. Could you please reconcile these positions?
7. You acknowledge meeting with representatives of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong in Paris in 1970. Afterward you urged Congress to accept the North Vietnamese proposals. Please explain how this wasn’t a violation of the Logan Act and, if you were still in the Naval Reserves at that time, how it wasn’t a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibiting unauthorized communications with the enemy.
8. In several speeches before black audiences you’ve stated that a million African Americans were disenfranchised and had their votes stolen in the 2000 presidential election. There are no official or media investigations that support that statement. What evidence do you have to support the statement and if you believe a million blacks had their votes stolen, why haven’t you called for criminal prosecutions and congressional investigations?
9. Do you dispute the National Journal’s assessment that you’re the nation’s most liberal senator? If you do, which senators do you consider to be more liberal and why?
10. Why did you propose cutting the intelligence budget by $6 billion in 1994?
11. As president, would you nominate anyone to be either an attorney general, FBI director, or CIA director who had been a leader and chief spokesman for a group that had discussed and voted upon a plan to assassinate U.S. senators (even if the proposed nominee had opposed such plan)?
12. You have consistently stated that you “never, never” attended the November 1971 Kansas City meeting of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War at which a plan to assassinate six pro-military U.S. senators was discussed. Several newspapers reported that when confronted with FBI surveillance reports, your campaign “all but conceded” that you were in attendance , but claimed that this was a mere “footnote in history.”
a. Were you there?
b. Did you discuss the assassination of U.S. senators? What did you say?
c. Did you vote upon such a plan? How did you vote? Were any similar plans discussed by your group at any time? What were they?
d. If the plan was voted down, what steps did you take to insure that supporters of the plan didn’t carry it out anyway?
e. Especially considering that this took place in an era of political assassinations and assassination attempts (Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., George Wallace, etc.), did you report the discussion to any law-enforcement authorities? If not, why not?
f. When did you resign from the organization?
g. Do you dispute reports that you continued as a spokesman for the organization for more than a year after the Kansas City meeting?
h. If this was a mere footnote in history why have you repeatedly and vehemently denied you were there?
i. Did your campaign, as alleged in several newspaper accounts, attempt to get a witness to change his story about your attendance?
13. You have criticized the Patriot Act. What portions would you repeal or amend and why? What evidence do you have of any abuses of the Patriot Act?
14. As president, what would you do about Iran’s emerging nuclear capability?
15. During your eight-year tenure on the Senate Intelligence Committee you missed more than thee fourths of all public meetings. It’s also been reported that you have skipped or delayed receiving intelligence briefings during the campaign. Why should the public believe that you’re serious about this issue?
16. What do you think is appropriate punishment for guards (and their superiors) found guilty of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib? Do you believe they should be stripped of command and receive dishonorable discharges and prison time?
17. On May 6, 2001, on Meet the Press, you stated that you had committed “the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers” in violation of the Geneva Convention. Specifically, you said you burned villages and “used 50-calibre machine guns, which [you] were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people.”
a. Who ordered you to use 50-caliber machine guns on people?
b. How many people did you shoot with the 50s and how many of them were killed or wounded?
c. When and where did these shootings occur?
d. What other atrocities did you commit and when?
e. Which village(s) did you burn down and when?
f. Were any of your crewmembers present during the commission of any of these atrocities?
g. Did you order them to participate in the atrocities? Did they follow your orders?
h. Why were there no reports of these atrocities? Did you order your crew not to report them?
i. Are any of these incidents described in your Vietnam journal? If not, why not?
j. Did you observe thousands of (or any) other troops committing atrocities? When, where and what kind? Did you report them? If not, why not?
k. In light of your admitted atrocities, if Abu Ghraib guards found guilty of abuse should receive prison time and be stripped of command, why do you believe you should be considered for commander-in-chief?
18. Who among the justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court would be a model for your nominees to the federal bench? Why?
19. In a speech before Drake University Law School you characterized U.S. allies in the war in Iraq as “some trumped-up so-called Coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted,…” Do you maintain that Great Britain has been bribed, coerced, bought, or extorted? What about Italy? Japan? Poland? Please specifically identify those members of the Coalition that have been either bribed, coerced, bought, and extorted and the officials who were bribed or bought.
20. You told George Stephanopoulos that you had a plan to get out of Iraq but refused to provide details. Would you consent to having your secret plan privately evaluated by an independent, bi-partisan panel of military experts who could report the plan’s merits to the electorate without divulging the details?
a. Would you also consent to privately revealing to an independent panel the names of the foreign leaders who secretly support you so that the panel can confirm your story to the electorate?
b. Ditto regarding the leaders whom you say have secretly told Senators Biden and Levin that you must win?
Obviously, there are a lot more questions–Social Security, health care, etc. Certainly there are tougher questions and those more artfully crafted. This is just a start. Feel free to add your own. TV-newsmagazine producers are welcome to use any of the above.
–Peter Kirsanow is…not holding his breath.