The 2016 presidential campaign season has begun in earnest, and so has the season of presidential gotcha journalism — at least it has for Republicans.
Gotcha journalism is the attempt by journalists to ask questions that make interview subjects seem uncompassionate, incompetent or otherwise unqualified for office.
Sometimes, gotcha questions really do reveal a lot about the candidate — their values, policy prescriptions and other things that provide citizens with a window into their character or competency.
More often, however, gotcha questions aren’t directly relevant to the duties of the office the candidate is seeking and thus are seen as coming from a hidden agenda.
I’ll confess to a degree of ambivalence when it comes to political gotcha questions. Perhaps it is because I recognize that they are disproportionately asked of conservative candidates, and meant only to embarrass them.
Recently, Republican presidential candidates have been asked whether they would attend a same-sex marriage, whether they believe in evolution, and whether they would outlaw contraceptives. Before that, there were gotcha questions about infidelity, the use of illegal drugs, and which newspapers they liked to read.
In the interests of fairness, here is a list of questions honest journalists should consider asking Democratic candidates, especially those running for president.
When does life begin? And when does that life become a human person deserving of constitutional rights?
You say you support women’s right to make their own reproductive choices. Do you support any limits on abortion? Third-trimester abortions? Abortions of fetuses who can feel pain or live outside their mother’s womb? Abortions specifically targeting unborn girls?
Do you believe nuns should be forced to buy birth control or face crippling fines? Do you support the Obama administration’s health care mandates that force people of faith to subsidize abortion and life-ending drugs and devices or face the force of law?
What do you think should happen to private business people with strong and deeply held religious beliefs who choose not to serve at a gay wedding? Should they be driven out of business? Should they be bullied into compliance, perhaps through some sort of re-education program?
Does the liberal virtue of tolerance include tolerance for those who oppose gay marriage?
Many of your supporters consider those who believe in the traditional view of marriage as the union of a man and a woman bigots, akin to racists. Do you agree with this view? If so, how do you reconcile this with the fact that you opposed gay marriage until very recently?
A question specifically for Hillary Clinton: Do you still believe, as you said you did until quite recently, that marriage is “not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman a fundamental bedrock principle”?
Another question for Hillary: In the 2008 campaign, you suggested Americans would not be able to sleep well at night knowing that Barack Obama would be the one taking an emergency 3 a.m. phone call to the White House about a foreign policy crisis. Based on your conduct in the Benghazi affair, do you think voters have reason to doubt your ability to protect Americans from foreign threats?
You say that you are a person of faith. When is the last time you attended a church to worship? Would you attend a service in a church that did not support gay marriage or abortion?
As a Christian, do you believe in the biblical account of creation? How do you reconcile that account with your belief in evolution?
Do you believe that the American people are undertaxed? Which taxes do you want to raise? Name two taxes you would cut?
Is America facing a severe threat from radical Islam? If not, what is the nature of the threat from terrorists?
Name two decisions that President Obama has made or policies he has implemented that you disagree with, and explain why.
Which conservative publications do you read or news outlets do you consume? How do you ensure that you are exposed to the best arguments of those with whom you disagree?
Most people would call the questions above tough and incisive but not out of bounds. Too bad so many politicians feel they can brush them aside simply by labeling them “gotcha questions.”
That’s not right. Political candidates — especially those seeking to become leader of the free world — should be able to answer any question, so long as it is at least somewhat relevant to the job he or she is seeking.
So ask away, journalists. But let’s give Democrats the same treatment you give Republicans.
• Gary Bauer, a former presidential candidate, is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.