The Democratic presidential debate that will be held tonight in Las Vegas promises several things: Attacks on Hillary Clinton by challengers who recognize that she remains the clear front-runner in a race that could be decided in two months, meandering ruminations by CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer that will take up more time than candidate answers and another great one-liner from Delaware Senator Joe Biden, the one candidate who has come to recognize the value of adding genuine comic relief to an otherwise stilted discourse.
But what about the questions? Will there be a further parsing of New York State Department of Motor Vehicles regulations? More inquiries about Halloween costumes and UFOs? Another round of hedge-fund roulette?
Here are some questions that ought to be asked of each of the candidates:
FOR HILLARY CLINTON: Fortune magazine did a cover story with the headline: "Business Loves Hillary!" Your campaign contribution list reads like a Wall Street Rolodex. Your health care plan actually pumps tens of billions of federal dollars into the coffers of existing insurance and for-profit health care firms. If Democrats nominate you, won't voters next November be left with a choice between two corporate candidates?
FOR BARACK OBAMA: You said when you ran for the Senate in 2004 that you planned to model yourself after U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin. Yet, when Feingold responded to the revelation that George Bush had authorized illegal warrantless wiretapping with a proposal that the Senate censure the president, you chose to stand with Bush rather than with Feingold. Why have you refused to join the man you identified as the conscience of the Senate in moving to rebuke the president for breaking the law?
FOR JOHN EDWARDS: You have sought to position yourself as the candidate of working people and a questioner of corporate excess. Yet, when you served in the Senate, you voted to remove barriers to free trade with China. That was a critical test and there was no mystery about what was at stake. Thousands of workers marched on the Capitol to urge a "no" vote. Labor unions from your own state of North Carolina pleaded with you to vote "no." And consumer groups warned of the health and safety problems that are now so much in the news. Still, you sided with the corporate lobbyists and the Clinton administration against the interests of workers and consumers. Why, when the lines were so clearly drawn, did you break with the majority of Democrats in Congress to vote with Wall Street?
FOR DENNIS KUCINICH: You were once the chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and remain active in the organization of more than 70 Democratic members of the House who share many of your views. Why do you think it is that no CPC members are supporting your candidacy? What does this say about your ability to inspire confidence and build coalitions?
FOR CHRIS DODD: You are running as the candidate of the Constitution, promising to undo the abuses of the Bush era. So why did you vote for the Patriot Act when the ACLU and other civil liberties groups were lobbying against it and when Russ Feingold in the Senate and more than 50 members of the House – including several Republicans – had the foresight and the courage to vote "no" when it mattered most?
FOR JOE BIDEN: In an earlier debate, you proposed dispatching tens of thousands of U.S. troops to Africa as a means of addressing the Darfur crisis. You voted to authorize George Bush to send U.S. troops to Iraq. You were an aggressive advocate for stepping up U.S. military action in the Balkans. The list goes on. Shouldn't Americans who have come to recognize the folly of the neo-conservative vision of using U.S. troops as cannon fodder in every fight on the planet be frightened by the prospect of you as commander-in-chief?
FOR BILL RICHARDSON: After you left the Clinton administration, you became a senior managing director of Kissinger McLarty Associates, a so-called "strategic advisory firm" headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. When President Bush moved to appoint Kissinger as chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Congressional Democrats demanded that Kissinger disclose the names of the firm's clients. Rather than do so, Kissinger rejected the presidential appointment, citing conflicts of interest. As you seek the presidency, will you disclose the names of the clients of Kissinger McLarty Associates during the period when you were associated with the firm?
FOR ALL THE CANDIDATES: You have all been highly critical of President Bush and even more critical of Vice President Cheney. Each of you has suggested that the president and vice president have engaged in dishonest and inappropriate actions that are at odds with their oaths of office and their duties as dictated by the Constitution. Last week, Dennis Kucinich tried last week to open a congressional debate on whether Dick Cheney should be impeached. Mr. Kucinich, why when American Research Group polling shows that 54 percent of voters surveyed favor impeachment of Cheney did Democratic leaders in the House oppose your move? For the rest of the candidates: Would you have joined Mr. Kucinich in voting to open up the debate on presidential and vice presidential accountability, or would you have voted to table the resolution?