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Bad Debate Questions at Dartmouth

By       Message Carol V. Hamilton       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   6 comments

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At the Dartmouth debate the other night, Tim Russert asked at least two absurd and pernicious questions. One is "would you torture Al Quaida's #3 man to save American lives?" The second objectionable question was whether Israel would have the right to make a preemptive strike if it "felt in danger"?

First, the torture question. It pertains to a group that has produced people willing to act to act as suicide bombers. What kind of threat is "a beating" or even worse, compared to flying a jet full of screaming passengers into a skyscraper?

In 1528 an aristocratic cleric named Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake in Edinburgh for hours. He could have avoided this terrible fate had he renounced his Lutheran beliefs. Other Christian martyrs were burned at the stake; one famously put his hand deliberately in the fire to show his lack of fear. There's no reason to think that Muslim zealots would be any less willing to endure whatever modern counterparts they would be subjected to.

The other arguments against torture are more well-known. John McCain says it doesn't work; people will say anything, lies included, to stop being tortured. Furthermore, if Americans use torture on enemy combatants, torture will be used on Americans; that's why we signed the Geneva Convention.

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So why does Russert ask this absurd question over and over again? And why do candidates let him get away with it?

The other ridiculous question had to do with Israel, and its very phrasing was absurd. What does "Israel" mean in that question--the prime minister, the Knesset, 51% of the Israeli population? Secondly, how can a country "feel"? Does any person or country get to act on the basis of a "feeling"? I live in an apartment building; if my neighbor creeps me out, is it okay for me to shoot him, just in case? Of course not.

There was another "gotcha, bleeding heart!" question posed by one of the local TV people. She claimed to have a question from a mother who complained that her second-grader had been read a story about a prince marrying another prince. The Democratic candidates all declared themselves to be in favor of tolerance, and apparently Mitt Romney immediately got an attack ad underway using this material. I'm gay-friendly, but even I might have said, incredulously, "second grade?"  And more cleverly, a candidate might have objected to a story about princes. "Hey, we're Americans, why are our children being taught about monarchy?"

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Russert did ask Gravel a good question, and Gravel gave an excellent answer. He asked Gravel how the Democrats could end the war, and Gravel answered that they could hunker down in Congress, and every morning send the president a bill to end the war, wait for the veto, send it again, wait for the veto, send it again, etc., meanwhile urging their constituents to call & email in support. In 40 days, he said, it could be done, but all the candidates would have to suspend campaigning.

Gravel also praised Biden and Dodd for voting against the latest war-on-IraN bill. He scolded HIllary for supporting it and Obama for being absent. Good for Gravel. He's a blast of cold Alaskan air.

I wrote Russert an email objecting to his hot-button questions. I hope others will do the same.


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Carol V. Hamilton has a Ph.D. in English from Berkeley and teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. She also writes for History News Network ( and

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