In addition to being the man behind PBS's "NewsHour" and a remarkably successful author and playwright, Jim Lehrer is one American whose judgment, fairness and knowledge are trusted by all sides to run the presidential and vice presidential debates. Not a bad epitaph for a one-time ink-stained wretch. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Jim Lehrer and I have been "NewsHour" colleagues for more than 13 years.)
Although Lehrer has never asked me for suggestions for debate questions, this has not stopped me from offering what I would ask the nominees. For example:
What was the last movie you saw in a theater that made your cry?
Do you think this nation's current military manpower policy, which basically exempts the best educated and best connected young men in the United States from defending this nation, will lead inevitably to an American foreign policy that is shaped by a governing elite composed of cowards?
If you could ask your opponent one question, what would it be?
To Gov. Bush: What presidential initiative or achievement of President Bill Clinton do you most admire?
To Vice President Gore: Can you name one time in the last seven-and-a-half years when you or the president with whom you served has told the abortion rights lobby anything they did not want to hear?
To Gov. Bush: Do you think your father, the former president, is mistaken when he joins our only two healthy living former presidents Republican Gerald Ford and Democrat Jimmy Carter in calling for the abolition of all soft money, without the loopholes for wealthy individuals your plan includes?
To Vice President Gore: What Republican president of your lifetime do you most admire and why?
To both men: What sacrifices do you ask of the American people to make this a better and more just society? What are the duties and responsibilities of being an American in the year 2000?
To Vice President Gore and Gov. Bush: When you each accepted, this summer, $68 million in public funds for your presidential campaigns, both of you solemnly signed an affidavit publicly pledging that you would neither raise nor spend any other campaign funds. Yet both of your campaigns have effective control of countless millions in soft money collected in the name of the party. How do you justify breaking your word?
To Vice President Gore: President Lincoln was called "Honest Abe." What does it tell us that President Clinton is called "Slick Willy"?
To Gov. Bush: Do you think Jon-Benet Ramsey was killed by a stranger or someone inside her home?
To Gov. Bush: Does Alex Trebek, the self satisfied TV host of "Jeopardy," remind you in any way of Vice President Gore?
To Vice President Gore: You're accused by political opponents of being a fierce partisan. Could you give us the names of three Republican members of Congress you consider to be close friends?
Both Vice President Gore and Gov. Bush have publicly and without embarrassment testified to their devotion, admiration and love for Jesus Christ, who said about the poor, "Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do for me." How, then, do you justify in a presidential campaign any public policy for feeding, clothing and caring for the poor left to volunteerism?
And, finally, for both: If you could only accomplish three objectives in your presidency putting a law on the books, taking a law off the books, or expanding or abolishing a specific federal power what three and only three would you list?
Aren't you glad they chose Jim Lehrer?
Mark Shields is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.