Commentary: If I Were In Danville...

Oct 10, 2012

We’re gearing up to air special live NPR coverage of the Vice Presidential Debate from Center College in Danville, Kentucky Thursday night. Commentator and History Professor Dr. Brian Clardy imagines being a moderator, and the substantive questions he would ask regarding foreign and domestic policy.

Please Note: The views expressed in this commentary are the opinion of the commentator and don't necessarily reflect the views of WKMS.

Like Thurber’s fictional Walter Mitty, I sometimes find myself in the world of imaginative daydreams.  Whether its sitting on the coast of Montego Bay sipping Pina Coladas while listening to Jimmy Cliff or brooding at a Parisian café enjoying culinary delights and debating the late Simone Beauvoir about the meaning of life, the life of imagination often provides a fond escape from the dull reality of life after 40. But lately, I have had daydreams of a different sort. One of them includes sitting in a green room and being prepped for an appearance as a panelist for the televised Vice Presidential debate at Danville’s Centre College.

I can see it now………wearing that bright red power tie that I got as a gift one summer……white shirt……blue jacket and a bright new pair of nerd glasses…….sitting in the chair while a nervous studio tech applies make up to my furrowed and anxious brow……practicing my diction and vocal pitch.  Then someone comes into the green room and says, “Dr. Clardy they are waiting for you…..we go on live in 20 minutes.”  Pensive and anxious I head out into the room adjoining the main auditorium to meet ABC’s Martha Raddatz and my fellow panelist as we have one more “run through” before walking into history.

As I run through that somewhat delusional scenario, I wonder, “What would I ask?”  

“How would I come across to viewers?” 

“Will I be the panelist who asks a Bernard Shaw type question that causes a candidate to stumble, in their answer, thus making the Thursday morning headlines?” 

“Or will I be the panelist who becomes the answer to a question on ‘Jeopardy’?”

But if I were in Danville, Kentucky  I would ask Vice President Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan some serious substantive questions on American domestic and foreign policy and I would be doggedly stubborn enough to whale away at them until I, and the American people, got some definitive answers.

I would ask:

“Mr. Vice President. How has ‘Hope and Change’ benefited areas in Western Kentucky (like my hometown of Fulton) where unemployment remains chronically high? Because Mr. Biden, for a displaced worker, not being able to find a job while the bills come in IS a big blanking deal.”

“Congressman Ryan. Do you honestly think voucherizing Medicare will trim a deal off of the national debt when the bulk of the tax burden falls on the working and middle classes?  Do you really want to throw Granny under the bus? Really?”

“Mr. Vice President. What do you say to the college student who has to live in his or her parents’ basement who really wants to vote for the Obama/Biden ticket, but sees nothing in their future but debt and a diminished earning potential?” 

“Congressman Ryan. What do you say to the Western Kentucky farmer who wants to vote for you, but is somewhat taken aback when you oppose investing in the type of renewable energy programs that would give them an additional source of income?”

“Vice President Biden. You and President Obama have had four years to hammer out a comprehensive peace plan for the Middle East, but the region is as tense and explosive as it has been in many decades. Where is the plan to stabilize the region?  How do you comfort a nervous Israel and dissuade Iran from doing their worse? How can you stop the bloodletting in Syria? And how do you keep Yemen from being another lethal front on the War on Terror?”

“Congressman Ryan. Do you really believe that antagonizing the Russians and the Chinese is the way to promote US foreign policy objectives where it is clear that A. The Cold War is over and B. We owe Chinese banks a LOT of money? What is the Romney/Ryan approach to nuclear non-proliferation and the promotion of human rights?

“Vice President Biden……….finish the sentence, ‘President Obama and I deserve another four years because___________.’”

“Congressman Ryan………..finish the sentence, ‘Governor Romney and I are uniquely qualified to serve as president and vice president because_______________’.”

The chances are great that if I were on the panel that I would make a lot of people uncomfortable, give the candidates heartburn, and be known as a political gadfly, ala Helen Thomas. But more than likely, the American people would get the answers from the candidates that they deserve and not flowery the sound bites that make for great copy but don’t do a lot to resolve America’s domestic and diplomatic problems.

Dr. Brian Clardy is an Assistant Professor of History and Coordinator of Religious Studies at Murray State University. He is also the host of Café Jazz, Thurday nights on WKMS. Hear special NPR Coverage of the Vice Presidential Debate Thursday evening from 8 to 10 pm, and interact with the NPR Live Chat on our website.