Karate Pros, Wise Children, Binding Contracts: The Golden Age of Town Hall Debate Questions

If you’re into awkward interactions between politicians and humans, and God knows I am, you really will resent the new-ish format tonight. The journo chatter is all about whether Candy Crowley will bust out and ask hard follow-up questions, even though she was asked not to. But the calculated selection of audience members will make them less interesting, easier to talk over. From 1992 to 2000, when the rules were looser, we got far less predictable question. Here, get wistful.

From 1992:

In the real world, that is, outside of Washington, DC, compensation and achievement are based on goals defined and achieved. My question is about the deficit. Would you define in specific dollar goals how much you would reduce the deficit in each of the 4 years of a Clinton administration and then enter into a legally binding contract with the American people, that if you did not achieve those goals that you would not seek a 2nd term? Answer yes or no and then comment on your answer, please.

Also from 1992:

As you are aware, crime is rampant in our cities. And in the Richmond area – and I’m sure it’s happened elsewhere – 12-year-olds are carrying guns to school. And I’m sure when our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they did not mean for the right to bear arms to apply to 12-year-olds. So I’m asking: Where do you stand on gun control, and what do you plan to do about it?

From 1996, this one just refuses to end:

My name is Shannon McAfee. I’m a beginning educator in this country, and I really think it’s important what children have to say. They’re still very idealistic. And they – everything they say comes from the heart. I have a quote for you from “If I Were President,” compiled by Peggy Gavin. A sixth grader says, “If I were president, I would think about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington and what they did to make our country great. We should unite the white and black people and people of all cultures. Democrats and Republicans should unite also. We should all come together and think of the best ways to solve the economic problems of our country. “I believe that when we are able to come together and stop fighting amongst ourselves we will get along a lot better.” These are the ideals and morals that we are teach – we are trying to teach our children in these days. Yet we don’t seem to be practicing them in our government, in anything. If you are president, how will you begin to practice what we are preaching to our children, the future of our nation?

This 1996 question has my favorite lede.

My name is Duane Burns. I’m a martial arts instructor and a father. Mr. President, could you outline any plans you have to expand the Family Leave Act?

This, in 2000, was mysteriously directed at George W. Bush and not Al Gore.

Hi, Governor. I’m very concerned about the morality of our country now. TV, movies, the music that our children are, you know, barraged with every day. And I want to know if there’s anything that can be worked out with the – Hollywood, or whoever, to help get rid of some of this bad language and whatever, you know. It’s just bringing the country down. And our children are very important to us and we’re concerned about their education at school. We should be concerned about their education at home, also.

Poking around the transcripts, I also noticed a question that would become nettlesome for Bill Clinton just 16 years later. “When do you estimate your party will both nominate and elect an Afro-American and female ticket to the presidency of the U.S.?”

He hoped he’d see it in his lifetime.