Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Which one of your children would you save first?

"There's a fire in your house, and you have three children. You probably don't have time to save them all. Please tell us the order in which you'd rescue your children, and why."

Rather ass-tastic question, yes?

And maybe the debate questions last night weren't Brokaw's choices, but if they were, he's got a lot to answer for. I found this one not too dissimilar from the one above:

"There are new economic realities out there that everyone in this hall and across this country understands that there are going to have to be some choices made. Health policies, energy policies, and entitlement reform, what are going to be your priorities in what order? Which of those will be your highest priority your first year in office and which will follow in sequence?"

The artificial prioritization task makes this sound like it's written by psychology Ph. D. for a matchmaking personality test on eHarmony. "You said energy matters most. Therefore you're compatible with meek Asian women. Here are 5 of them, very eager to hear form you!"

The real limiting factor, which the question half alludes to, is spending. One can't spend unlimited amounts on everything. Yet even asking about spending priorities doesn't get at the issue: Some things are more expensive than others. One can spend more on a college education for one's children than one spends on food, but it doesn't mean you think it's more important for the kids to be educated than fed.

I think the more instructive question is not what the priorities would be, but how the candidates would prioritize. Process, not outcomes. Have the candidates talk through the thinking behind their decisions.

There were plenty of these shallow, simplistic artificial choice questions last night. Is Russia bad or good? Should green energy investment be centralized or decentralized? This may be how idiot America sees the world, through the Hollywood lens of archetypal protagonist and antagonist. So maybe most of America was at home saying "Good question, Tom!" Not me.