With one week to go before the first presidential debate, concrete policy and proposals seem as much of a sideshow as ever in this election cycle. Hillary Clinton got pneumonia, while Donald Trump addressed his role in the birther controversy, and those two stories received the lion's share of interest. However, things took a sobering turn over the weekend, when a series of bombs planted in New York and New Jersey sparked new fears about terrorism in the United States.
These events should demand serious questions of both major presidential candidates. If there's any silver lining to these highly disturbing discoveries, it is that they will hopefully create substantive presidential dialogue — a marked contrast to the focus on such critical topics as how much water Clinton drinks.
We've seen how this presidential race has devolved — and not just due to the candidates' own actions — with the recent NBC News Commander-in-Chief Forum. While the program ostensibly attempted to promote serious, policy-driven discussion, interviewer Matt Lauer was widely criticized for his moderating. The New York Times' James Poniewozik called it "the apotheosis of this presidential campaign’s forced marriage of entertainment and news."
The most shocking moment of the forum, in my opinion, came when Lauer urged Clinton to respond to a question about ISIS as briefly as she could, as if ISIS were a mere afterthought of the president's responsibilities, and not a central concern for the commander-in-chief. He also curtailed her response to a question about domestic terrorism, while he asked Trump outright, "Will you be prepared ... to tackle national security issues?" It would have been so much more effective to ask Trump a complicated foreign policy question — that answer would have come closer to actually demonstrating whether he was prepared.
The first presidential debate is one week from today, and NBC News moderator Lester Holt owes it to voters to keep his questions policy-centric. Forty years from now, the policies enacted by a President Clinton or Trump will still be affecting lives in the United States and abroad. Softball questions are an insult to the millions of people around the world whose lives will be forever changed by the outcome of this election.
This election cycle has been extremely strange, to be sure, but we cannot let the larger-than-life personalities of the nominees overshadow the policy differences between them. The presidential election simply cannot be allowed to morph into a reality show or a popularity contest. As Americans saw this weekend, there is just too much at stake.