We all want our candidates to answer more questions, but it’s hard to figure out what we really want to know from them. Sometimes it seems like we want to gauge their knowledge of world affairs — and so they are asked social studies questions — “What is the capital of the Republic of Georgia?” Sometimes we want to know about their experience — and so they are asked what they would do in a certain situation. Ultimately we want to know if they are smart “like us” or in the least “like us” and so odd questions will be thrown into various debates such as “Who is your favorite philosopher?” and “Which is your favorite book of the Bible?”
These questions typically misfire. Very few politicians are like Adlai Stevenson. Whatever it is that makes them good at what they do, which typically involves raising money and cutting backroom deals, we simply don’t have questions for. Lacking the right questions, on the other hand, may be considered as license to ask any question. Here are some of mine:
1. How do you celebrate June 16th?
2. What memories do madeleines evoke for you?
3. Do you typically take the road less traveled, or the other one?
4. Would you explain the difference between the ‘ontic’ and the ‘ontological’, and how this distinction affects your daily life?
5. Can Virtue be taught?
6. How many wives of Henry the Eighth can you name? and which ones bore future rulers of England?
7. Explain the difference between descriptivist and prescriptivist grammar, and apply the difference to something that has nothing to do with grammar.
8. Describe at least five of Martin Luther’s 95 tenets; expand on any you strongly agree or disagree with.
9. Explain the difference between the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems of the world, and why it matters.
10. Besides beds, what was the chief source of income at Peter Coffin’s Inn?
Coincidentally, these ten questions also capture the ten main categories of knowledge that our presidential candidates are expected to exemplify or demonstrate some expertise in, namely:
1. Patriotism 2. Historical knowledge 3. Experience 4. Wonkiness 5. Family values 6. Foreign Affairs 7. Rhetorical skill 8. Faith 9. Science 10. Economics