Media Owe Voters a Discussion of Real Issues During Debates

As the first presidential debate approaches, voters voice their desire to hear specifics from Obama and Romney.

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Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, and the former executive director of Vets for Freedom. Hegseth is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.

As we count down to the first of three presidential debates between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney on Wednesday in Colorado, the Beltway media is ramping up its already obsessive horse-race approach to campaign coverage.

We're hearing breathless speculation from reporters and pundits: Who's got the edge going in to Wednesday night? Will Romney go on the offensive? How can Obama insulate himself from attacks on his stewardship of the economy? Will there be a game-changing gaffe? How will it affect the swing state polls? To hear the chattering classes go at it, you'd think the debates were a glorified Saturday Night Live skit, hinging on 'zingers' and applause lines.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Lost in all that sound and fury is any focus on the substance of the debate. Where do the candidates truly stand on key issues? How would Romney move the struggling economy toward recovery? How will Obama tackle the $16 trillion national debt and runaway spending? What will either man do about the challenges to American security that are emerging around the world?

For a soldier on patrol in Afghanistan right now, wondering if he'll make it through his tour of duty without injury or worse, those are pertinent questions. For the recent college graduate wondering if she'll ever find a good job and start paying down her student loans, those are pertinent questions. For the family wondering what their tax bill will look like in the years to come, and how that will affect their household budget, those are pertinent questions.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Afghanistan.]

Most Americans care little about the minutiae of campaign strategy, and rightly so. Debates should be about issues, and they should be about holding the candidates to account in addressing their priorities, and specific policies, directly to the voters. With that in mind, our organization—Concerned Veterans for America—surveyed our community of veterans, military personnel, and their friends and families to find out what they want to hear from the candidates.

We posed a simple question to our community through the Concerned Veterans for America Web site and on Facebook: "If you had the opportunity to submit a question to President Obama and former Governor Romney during a debate, what would it be?"

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Within hours of posting this query on September 27, we received over 500 sharp questions for both nominees; particularly on matters related to the economy and fiscal management. A sampling (slightly edited for typos and clarity):

  • President Obama, you said that if you didn't turn the economy around in four years you would be a one-term president. So since you haven't cut the deficit in half, haven't performed on unemployment as promised, haven't slowed spending, and don't have time for intel briefings, why shouldn't you be fired?
  • Former Governor Romney, of the 47 percent of Americans on government support, how do you plan to reduce that while still keeping the dream alive in America? Pride and personal responsibility?
  • What is your strategy to economic recovery and to pay our national debts the shortest way?
  • How will you create jobs and reduce the national debt? I want specifics and not a run-around speech.
  • The federal government has outgrown society's capacity to support it both from a financial and a regulatory standpoint. How are you going to fix it and go against your party? Simply cutting a few dollars here or there is not going to do it.
  • [See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

    These questions square with the results of a nationwide poll of veterans we conducted in July to find out what veterans and military members think is the greatest threat to our nation's security. That survey revealed that fully 72 percent of veterans cited "the economy" and "debt" as top threats to our nation's power and well being.