Surprisingly, CNN, during its Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, asked a numbers of questions that conservatives might propose on Thursday night. During the first hour of the debate, moderators Wolf Blitzer, Campbell Brown, and John Roberts asked a total of 13 questions (not counting follow-up questions) on a number of issues. Of these, five could be considered to be "conservative."
Campbell Brown directed the first such question to Barack Obama. "Senator Obama, I want to ask you about immigration....What do you say to those Americans who say they are losing out because you would give benefits to people who broke the laws of this country, who came here illegally. And then more generally, as president, where do you draw the line when it comes to benefits for illegal immigrants?"
Even after a similar question in the last debate "tripped up" Hillary Clinton, Obama avoided answering the question with a direct yes-or-no, which prompted two follow-up questions from Blitzer. "I take it, Senator Obama, you support giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Is that right?" and "Well, let's go through everybody because I want to be precise.... Do you support or oppose driver's licenses for illegal immigrants?"
After all of the candidates had a chance to comment on the benefits for illegal immigrants issue, John Roberts brought up the issue of merit pay for teachers. "In workplaces across America, it's [a] pretty common practice to reward high-performing employees with pay raises and to terminate bad employees. However, in our education system across the country, by and large, in our nation's public schools, teachers' unions make it difficult to do that. Question is, what is wrong with rewarding a teacher who excels at the job that they're doing by paying them more than an average teacher would make?
Roberts first directed the question to Senator Christopher Dodd, who thought there should be "merit pay" for teachers who mentor poor or rural children after school. Blitzer then directed a follow-up question to Dennis Kucinich, a "strong supporter of the unions." "Are there any issues with unions -- teachers unions or other unions, for that matter -- with which you disagree?" After a long non-answer, which prompted a point of clarification from Blitzer, Kucinich said he’s not a "slam dunk" on every issue the unions support.
Richardson, Clinton, and Biden then weighed in on the issue. The way that Blitzer worded a follow-up question to Clinton on the issue was interesting. "But what if there's an excellent teacher in that team and a crummy teacher in that team, a teacher who's simply riding along and not really working very hard, not really educating those young kids? Do you give just everybody the merit pay, or do you give it to individual teachers?"
After Campbell Brown directed a question to Biden on Pakistan, Blitzer asked Bill Richardson about the same issue. In answering, Richardson proposed that if he became president, "democracy and human rights" concerns would become more important than national security concerns.
RICHARDSON: Well, of course I'm worried, but what happened with our Pakistan policy, we got our principles wrong. We forgot our principles, our principles that we said to Musharraf: You know, Musharraf, security is more important than human rights. If I'm president, it's the other way around -- democracy and human rights. What I would do is, yes, I would condition the assistance to Musharraf. We give him $10 billion. Sixty percent of that is to his military.... So, if we're on the side of democracy and human rights, and we're on the side of Musharraf having elections, then U.S. interests are preserved, and the Pakistani people have a democracy.
Following-up, Blitzer responded, "Let me just be precise because I want to make sure we all -- I heard you correctly. What you're saying, Governor, is that human rights, at times, are more important than American national security?" Richardson answered in the affirmative.
Bltizer then asked John Edwards, Obama, Dodd, and Clinton to weigh in on his question. Edwards didn’t really answer the question, and instead focused on what he would do with Pakistan. Obama answered that the concepts of human rights and national security are "complementary," and also gave his policy suggestions with Pakistan. After using part of his answer to bash the Bush administration’s policy with Turkey and Pakistan, Dodd answered that national security was more important. Clinton then agreed with Dodd.
The next "conservative" question dealt with the Iraq War. John Roberts asked Bill Richardson, "Is General Petraeus correct when he says that the troop increase is bringing security to Iraq?" Richardson disagreed with Petraeus, and said that the "surge is not working." Blitzer then directed the question to Kucinich, who made his usual "bring them home now" rant, and to Obama, who claimed "the overall strategy is failed because we have not seen any change in behavior among Iraq's political leaders."
After the candidates debated the issue of trade with China and if NAFTA was a mistake, Roberts asked Obama about nuclear energy, due to the controversy of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site in the debate’s host state of Nevada.
ROBERTS: Senator Obama, the price of oil is flirting with $100-a-barrel mark right now, making all the more urgent the need for alternate fuel sources. You support nuclear energy as a part of the plan for the future, but there is an issue of what to do with the waste. You are opposed to the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository about 90 miles from here. Your state uses about -- gets about 48 percent of its power from nuclear, compared to 20 percent for most other states, yet you are opposed to bringing nuclear waste from other states and keeping it in Illinois. The question is, if not in your backyard, whose?
Obama then gave a long answer about how nuclear energy "isn’t necessarily our best option," but "it has to be part of our energy mix." He also focused on the "genuine crisis" of global warming and the need to "cap greenhouse gases" and increase renewable energy sources.
Blitzer then asked Richardson about what to do with nuclear waste. Richardson replied simply that "you don’t put it in Yucca Mountain," and then focused almost entirely on renewable sources.
The moderators’ inclusion of some "conservative" questions contrasts with the second hour of the debate, in which the candidates fielded questions from "undecided" voters. These questions dealt, for the most part, with partisan liberal issues, from how to stop "the rush to war" with Iran to how the passage of the PATRIOT Act has supposedly lead to racial profiling.