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Politics and Economy:
Election 2004
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Morton Mintz's Debate Questions: National Policy

On October 1, 2004, Bill Moyers talks with Morton Mintz, veteran WASHINGTON POST reporter and former chair of the Fund for Investigative Journalism, about the presidential debates. Mintz has watched every televised debate since they started in 1960. For several cycles he has drawn up his own list of questions that should be, but often aren't, asked in the debates. In anticipation of the 2004 debate cycle Mintz reviewed matters of concern from national fiscal policy to America's role in the world and came up with an extensive list of questions he'd like to see the two candidates asked. His full list of questions is printed below.

National Policy — National Security/Foreign Policy
Fundamental Fairness Tax Policy Religion in American Life
Questions for President BushQuestions for Senator Kerry

Mintz on National Policy

Former Commerce Secretary Peter Peterson warns of staggering unfunded liabilities of between $45 trillion and $74 trillion, of passing "unthinkable debts and taxes" to our children and grandchildren, and of 25 or 30 million boomers in "very serious need of support" on retiring a few years hence. He blames the Republicans for "a tax-cut theology [that's] morphed into any tax cut, anytime," and the Democrats for hardly ever seeing "a universal entitlement program they did not like."

Do you agree "that reductions in benefits are absolutely essential in Social Security and Medicare," and that we should institute mandatory savings of 2 to 3 percent in workers' personal retirement accounts?
Americans think of roads, education, and police and fire protection as public goods.

Should universal health care also be regarded as a public good?
Forty-five million Americans had no health insurance last year. In all other industrialized countries basic health care is universal. Business benefits. In Canada, for example, General Motors, by its own account, produces a mid-size car for $1,400 less in Canada than in the United States. That's because the taxes GM pays toward insuring everyone in Canada are much smaller than the premiums it pays for comparable coverage of just its own employees and retirees in the United States.

Should the United States provide basic health care for everyone?

How long can the U.S. continue to consume 25 percent of the energy produced by the entire world?
The people of Colorado will decide on Nov. 2 whether to award their state's votes in the electoral college in proportion to the popular votes each of you--and each presidential candidate thereafter — wins. While this would end the winner-take-all system in only one state, it could also change the outcome of the national election.

Do you favor or oppose the Colorado initiative? Would it be a good or bad idea for all states to follow suit?

Business executives run a serious risk of criminal prosecution if they engage in financial fraud. They run almost no such risk if they kill, injure, or sicken Americans by knowingly and willfully marketing defective products, intentionally hiding the hazards of prescription drugs or medical devices, recklessly endangering the safety and health of workers, or deliberately poisoning the air we breathe or the water we drink.

Does equal justice under law require that we punish those who assault us with a stroke of the pen as we punish those who assault us with a gun or knife?

Americans depend for political information and access to debate about great issues on the fewer than 25 media conglomerates that control the bulk of our newspapers, magazines, films, television and radio, and book publishing. Just in the last decade, the 10 biggest owners of local television stations tripled the number of stations they own. A single company owns the radio stations heard by about one-third of the public. In the face of all of this, the Federal Communications Commission decided last year to eliminate restraints on media consolidation.

Would you try to restrain or reduce media concentration? How?
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines a bribe as "Something, such as money or a favor, offered to or given to a person in a position of trust to influence that person's views or conduct."

Do our campaign-finance laws legalize bribes?

Just four big Wall Street have contributed $1,228,920 to the Bush campaign. The same four firms, the Center for Public Integrity found, have contributed $704,108 to the Kerry campaign.

Do contributors like these have chits they can call in from the winner in November?

State laws disenfranchise convicted felons, sometimes for life. In November, these laws will strip the right to vote from an estimated 5 million men and women, or about 2.3 percent of all of the people eligible to vote. Scholars say the laws are rooted in the Reconstruction-era racist backlash in the South and were designed to target blacks. In other democracies, many of those we disenfranchise could vote.

Do these laws meet the test of fundamental fairness?
Wyoming has 500,000 residents, California 35.5 million. Each state has two senators. If the presidential election is to be decided by the House of Representatives, as can happen under the Constitution, Wyoming and California each would have one vote although California's population is 71 times larger than Wyoming's.

Should a democracy bestow vastly more influence on the national government on a citizen of a thinly-populated state than on a citizen of a heavily-populated one?

Under our winner-take-all election system, the 538 members of the Electoral College are empowered to give the presidency to a candidate who loses the popular vote, thwarting the will of the majority.

Is the Electoral College obsolete?

Under our winner-take-all election system, a presidential candidate who gets one more vote in a state than does his opponent wins all of that state's electoral votes, effectively disenfranchising the 49.999 percent of citizens who voted for the opponent. By contrast, the instant-runoff system allows voters to rank multiple candidates in order of preference, so that if there is no initial majority winner, a quick runoff recount can be conducted — without a new election — to determine which candidate a majority of voters actually prefers.

Is winner-take-all a fair and rational system in a democracy? Would you favor switching to instant-runoff?

For decades, the Federal Communications Commission held that radio and television stations had an explicit duty to cover local issues. And the FCC's "Fairness Doctrine" told broadcasters that as "trustees" of the public's airwaves, they could editorialize only if they aired balancing viewpoints. As part of the Reagan administration's drive for deregulation, the Commission dissolved the duty and the Doctrine, which, it said, was unnecessary, no longer doing what it was supposed to do, and might actually "chill" free speech and violate the First Amendment.

Would you seek to resurrect the explicit duty and the Fairness Doctrine?

The Freedom of Information Act ensures public access to the records of government agencies. Forty-eight years after enacting the law, however, Congress continues to exempt its own records. Even the national legislatures of Mexico and Slovokia don't exempt themselves.

Should the public have access to the records of Congress just as it does to records of the Executive branch?
The television networks didn't cover the first night of either party's national convention and sharply limited the time allotted to each of the remaining three nights. Yet broadcasters will receive nearly $1.5 billion from political advertising during the campaign season, Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps wrote in an August op-ed. His summary of what "we get in return for granting TV stations free use of our airwaves" was, "less and less" "coverage of issues important to our nation." Meanwhile, Copps says, "the FCC practically rubber-stamps license renewals, usually without auditing station records to determine whether licensees are fulfilling their public-interest responsibilities..."

Would you try to assure that commercial broadcasters meet public-interest requirements? Would you try to strengthen the non-commercial, nonprofit sector of the media, particularly by eliminating the need of public broadcasting to take money from corporations or other private entities?
The large integrated oil companies posted profits for the second quarter of this year that were 55% higher than last year. Yet their capital spending is down significantly. The increased profits are being used to buy back stock, not to produce more energy.

Should the government give the oil industry greater financial incentives to increase domestic production?

For two years, the Sarbanes-Oxley law has assured protection of the free-speech rights of private-sector employees who blow the whistle on schemes to defraud shareholders. Yet government employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing — even those responsible for preventing terrorism — have weaker protections.

Would you upgrade the protections of federal whistle blowers to the level afforded private whistle blowers by the Sarbanes-Oxley law?
The Food and Drug Administration is empowered to stop manufacturers from selling prescription drugs they haven't demonstrated to be safe and effective in their intended uses. But Congress prohibits the FDA from stopping anyone from selling herbal supplements and advertising them on the Internet and in pamphlets as cures for disease. Just one of these products killed 30 Americans and sickened many more. Another caused men to bleed to death and to grow breasts.

Will you ask Congress to require manufacturers to demonstrate to the FDA that herbal supplements are safe and effective before they can enter the market?
The Mining Act of 1872 lets mining companies stake claims to multiple 20-acre tracts of public lands in the West, pay the government $100 a year per tract, become owners for $2.50 to $5 an acre, and extract billions of dollars worth of gold and other "hardrock" minerals.

Would you urge Congress to repeal the Mining Act?

In his new book about out-sourcing, financial commentator Lou Dobbs writes: "Never have there been fewer business leaders willing to commit to the national interest over the selfish interest...of the companies they head." He also has decried "the absence of a countervailing political influence to the power of corporate America," saying that its power "across the unparalleled in Washington, DC."

Do you share Lou Dobbs' assessment of our business leaders and of corporate power in Washington?

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