The 9 Debate Questions We Want to Hear

Of course topics such as affirmative action and black unemployment won't come up. But we can dream.

Win McNamee/Getty Images News

4. Can you identify the FAFSA form?

If you just asked, “What’s an FAFSA form?” congratulations on two accounts: 1) for obviously not having any student-loan debt and 2) for having something in common with most of our federal elected officials. Solving the student-loan crisis is one of the hottest political issues of this election cycle and, frankly, this generation.

Congress is populated with substantially more millionaires than the general population: Nearly half of all members of Congress are members of the so-called “1 percent.” Romney and Obama are as well. This doesn’t make them unqualified for office, but it does require them to go the extra mile to demonstrate that they can understand the struggles of those who are not members of their tax bracket. (President Obama doesn’t have to try quite as hard to go the extra mile, however. He and the first lady finished paying off their student loans just eight years ago.)

One of the easiest ways I can think of to get candidates to demonstrate a true understanding of the plight of families and students struggling to finance a college education is to show them multiple forms during a debate and ask each candidate if he can identify which document is FAFSA, the form that the majority of American students must fill out to seek financial aid for college.

Better yet, let’s start with an easier question: Can they even say what “FAFSA” stands for? (For the record, it’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid.) I have a hard time believing that many of our recent presidential candidates — most of whom have been privileged — could answer either question, which is not only disappointing but downright disturbing.

5. If you knew that your children would end up on the receiving end of some of the attack ads your campaign has used against your opponent, would you encourage them to enter politics?

Attack ads in politics are a bit like cursing. People consider them something everyone does but no one is particularly proud of, or would ever want their kids to emulate. I therefore think phrasing a question about attack ads in the context of his children may tell you more about a candidate’s true character than simply asking him whether he “stands by the ad.” For the record, neither candidate (or his supporters) is innocent when it comes to playing hardball with ads. Here’s an overview of a few.

6. Do you think that America is, for the most part, an equal playing field?

This is another question that could tell us a great deal about a candidate’s perspective on privilege and how that perspective would ultimately shape the policies he introduces. If you think all of us start on an equal playing field, then that means you don’t think you need to do anything in terms of policy to even the playing field.