If You Were Moderating the Presidential Debate

If you’re like me, daydreaming of moderating a presidential debate, and are contemplating what questions, or requests, you might ask the candidates to address, allow me to share the first ten items on my list.  No gotchas.  Just simple, open-ended, non-judgmental queries a candidate can either knock out of the park or hang themselves with––depending on how well they know the person in the mirror, and how willing they are to be frank.

The suggestions I list below are designed to reveal a couple of things.  One, the values and priorities the candidate carries in their heart.  Leadership, after all, is perspective that helps those we serve make healthy choices.  Clarity on values and priorities at the deepest place within us is where a healthy perspective begins.  Two, their ability to engage life’s most important activity: learning from our experience––embracing what is, no matter how painful, and allowing it to teach us.

Further, I wouldn’t spring these requests on the candidates.  I’d give them a few days to prepare their responses.  While none of these inquiries should be that foreign to a thoughtful person, what we want from them are answers that represent what they consider their best thinking.  Which is why I would also scrap the traditional debate format for this particular go-round.  Out-snarking the other guy isn’t as illuminating as how appropriately naked each is willing to be.

So here goes:

  1. Please identify the five most important questions you feel a presidential candidate should be asked to address in depth at this time in the life of our nation.  Please explain why your selection represents the maturity, intelligence, experience and wisdom the American people deserve in a president.  (Later on, we’ll ask you to answer your questions.)
  2. If the person you are today were president in September 2001, what address would you give to the American people in the wake of 911?  Please give us the 10 minute version.  After which, please explain why you feel that your remarks would have been the most meaningful message for the nation to hear at that time?  In what ways would your message be useful to Americans and the world for generations to come?
  3. If the parents of any teenager in America could have their child gain one piece of advice from you––something you have learned painfully from your own experience––what would that advice be…and why?  And please give what you feel is an exceptionally powerful example of how that advice will influence your decision-making as president.
  4. If you were asked to officiate a wedding, and to include in that duty a talk on the meaning of marriage, what would you say?  Please give us the synopsis of that talk.  How has your view been shaped by your own challenges as a married person?  How will what you have learned help you as president?
  5. What has been the turning point of your life?  How does what you have learned from that circumstance shape the decisions you’ve made since?  More specifically, please give an example of how what you have learned will influence how you approach what you perceive is the number one responsibility of being president?
  6. What is the worst thing that could ever happen to you?  Why would you consider it such?  How does that judgment influence your values, your priorities, your behavior?
  7. What is the best thing that has ever happened to you?  How will what you’ve learned from that circumstance serve you when, as president, you are faced with the prospect of sending our nation to war?
  8. What is your relationship with prayer?  How do you define prayer?  Do you pray?  Why?  If you pray, what is your most common prayer, and why?
  9. How would you know a healthy person if you saw one?  What would a healthy person know, and be continually learning?  What situations in life would they be able to address constructively?  Please explain to what extent would you consider yourself a healthy person, and why?  And what has been the most difficult lesson you’ve had to learn?
  10. What, in your view, will be the most significant implications, positive and negative, over the next decade if your opponent is elected?  Please do not generalize, but rather demonstrate how you would measure those implications, and why those measurements are the most important ones to consider.

And wait till you see the follow-up questions.  You get where I’m going.  No matter how a candidate answers, we learn something about how well they know themselves, and how that knowledge might inform their ability to do a job that is unspeakably demanding.  Their stance on issues is that much more meaningful when considered in the context of who they’re bringing to the table.

Come to think of it, the same goes for us all––whether we’re moderating this extravaganza or not.  Questions like these can be an invigorating workout for anyone whose favorite sport is the grand adventure of self-understanding.


  1. Tom Brady said:
    This is brilliant. I am so moved by it, I want to answer these questions myself and ask my clients the same in the context of their leadership. I think it has become clear to me how you might serve in the context of our relationship, other than these beautiful writings. Peace.

  2. Josie Estill said:
    How wonderful it would be if the two presidential candidates were to answer these questions. So much insight….

  3. Mo Charbonneau said:
    These questions would be valuable to anyone who looks for a deeper understanding of themselves. Interesting, the juxtaposition of your perspective, Steve, and the reality of how the presidential campaign is being conducted. If the campaign had led with these questions, perhaps it would not have been so easy to manipulate voters. As always, an insightful and interesting article. Thank you!

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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth