David Frum: President Obama has a record that should be questioned in the debates
He says Obama should be asked about results of Afghan surge and "green-on-blue" attacks
Frum: Ask about slow economic recovery and what level of taxation he thinks is too high
Ask Obama how he would govern differently in second term, Frum says
Editor’s Note: David Frum is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor. He is the author of seven books, including a new novel, “Patriots.”
Mitt Romney has had a bad couple of weeks, really a bad month since the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. The media spotlight has relentlessly focused on him. But there is an incumbent in the race, too, and an incumbent with a record that also reveals important disappointments, errors and failures.
Over the next month, President Barack Obama will stand on stage beside Romney and submit to press questioning before millions of TV viewers. Here are 10 questions I’d like to hear him answer:
1) More than 50 U.S. and coalition soldiers have been killed so far this year by supposedly friendly Afghan forces. Two Americans were fatally shot just last week by Afghans we trained and equipped. These so-called “green on blue” attacks now account for 14% of all coalition casualties.
In 2009, you ordered 33,000 additional U.S. forces into Afghanistan. Three years later, Afghanistan looks no more stable than it did in 2009. Can you tell us specifically what the Afghan surge accomplished?
2) Campaigning in 2008, you called for tearing down the walls that separated the Muslim world from the West. You granted your first post-inauguration interview to Al Arabiyya television and told the interviewer: “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.” You traveled to Cairo, Egypt, in 2009 to deliver a speech offering “a new beginning” in U.S. relations with the Islamic world.
With the discovery that our ally Pakistan was home to Osama bin Laden, with a 9/11 denialist now elected president of Egypt, with our embassies under attack, with the news only in this past week that an Egyptian schoolteacher was sentenced to six years in prison for postings judged offensive to Islam on his Facebook page and mobs in Bangladesh burning Buddhist temples – why have your hopes for change been so brutally disappointed?
3) After the lethal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies collected information that the attacks were premeditated and coordinated by elements of al Qaeda in Libya, and timed to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Yet your administration insisted for more than a week that the attacks were a spontaneous reaction to a YouTube video. Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was sent to five Sunday morning shows to repeat a claim that she – and you – had to have known was untrue. The video maker is now under arrest, ostensibly because of parole violations, but pretty obviously for exercising his free-speech rights. Why didn’t you just tell the truth to the American people from the start?
4) Can you today guarantee that Iran will not have acquired a nuclear weapon by the time you finish a second term in office?
5) You inherited the worst economic crash since the 1930s. The economy hit bottom in the summer of 2009 and a recovery then began. Congratulations. Yet this recovery has been the slowest and weakest since World War II. Nobody blames you for the collapse. But why shouldn’t Americans blame you for the meager record since recovery began more than three years ago?
6) You propose to allow the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 to expire on income above $250,000. That would raise the top rate of federal income tax back to 39.6%. When the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, the top rate will rise past 40%, including the new health care surtax. Almost all states collect income taxes of their own, rising nearly to 10% in California and even beyond in Oregon. Do you believe there a percentage level at which the government is taking just too much? What is it?
7) You emphasize more college education as the most important way to raise worker wages. Yet even before the Great Recession began, wages were actually dropping for new college graduates. As technology enables the outsourcing of white-collar jobs, too, it’s ceasing to be true that a college degree in itself translates into a rising standard of living. Got any other ideas?
8) You’ve expressed concern about growing wealth disparities in America. One cause of those disparities is the huge surge of low-wage immigration since 1970: almost 30 million newcomers. These newcomers are three times as likely as the native-born to lack a high-school diploma. Even before the Great Recession, they were 50% more likely to be poor than the native-born. The best data show that even the great-grandchildren of low-skill Latino immigrants continue to struggle in the high-tech economy. Your immigration proposals call for granting illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, creating incentives for more illegal entry in the future and continuing family reunification policies that will maintain our present low-skill immigration intake for years and decades to come. How do you reconcile your immigration proposals with your promise to strengthen the American middle class?
9) Your administration reacted to the financial crisis with an $800 billion fiscal stimulus. You promised that it would create jobs and rebuild American infrastructure. Yet Amtrak’s latest plan for the Northeast rail corridor can promise no shortening of travel times until the 2040s. Can you give examples of any real-life improvements to our infrastructure that were achieved by your stimulus? Please be as specific as possible.
10) If you’re re-elected in 2012, what hope is there that the next four years will be less acrimonious and ineffectual than the past two? Can you acknowledge any fault at all on your own side for the paralysis in Washington – and what will you change to try to make your second term less rancorous than your first?
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Frum.