Let's Play 20 Questions

Given the compression of the presidential-primary calendar, both parties' nominees may be known a year from now, on the evening of March 7, the day voting occurs in California, New York and a slew of other states. The Democratic contest should be decorous, because neither Al Gore nor Bill Bradley will ever be confused with William Jennings Bryan, the Silver-Tongued Orator of the Platte. They are not firebrands who are apt to scorch one another over their differences, if they have any differences. But the Republican candidates, who are sprouting like March crocuses, should be entertaining, particularly if pressed to answer questions such as these 20:

The average household has an income of $38,000 and would get only $99 from a 10 percent across-the-board tax cut. The public is less than incandescent about such a cut. Surprised?

In 1999 the 23.6 percent of taxpayers earning between $30,000 and $50,000 will pay just 13.6 percent of income taxes. The 5 percent of Americans earning $100,000 or more will pay 62 percent of all income taxes. Do you think this pattern of payments is equitable and serves economic efficiency, or would you change it?

If you agree that the mortgage-interest deduction, by subsidizing such borrowing, raises mortgage rates and causes excess investment in housing stock at the expense of more productive uses of capital, what should be done?

Already states are losing billions of dollars in sales-tax revenues because of shopping over the Internet, and such shopping is in its infancy. Should government accept this technological emancipation of taxpayers?

Four Supreme Court justices are older than 65. Two are older than 73. Suppose a Court shaped by your appointees overturns Roe v. Wade, restoring to states the power to regulate abortion. Can you name even one state you are confident would outlaw first-trimester abortions (which are 86 percent of all abortions)?

Soon a federal commission will report its thoughts concerning a subject that strains relations between libertarian and cultural conservatives. The subject is legalized gambling. States and localities increasingly count on revenues from lotteries and casinos. Should gambling be regarded as a victimless recreation or a vice to be contained and discouraged?

In 1996 Californians, one eighth of the nation's electorate, voted to ban racial preferences by government. In 1998 the voters in Washington state did likewise. Should that be federal policy?

Do you believe--and if so, on the basis of what analysis--that smoking costs government money?

Do you agree--and if not, why not--with the proposition that the only campaign finance regulation compatible with the First Amendment guarantee of free speech can be stated in seven words: no cash, full disclosure, no foreign money?

Now that Republican talk about abolishing entire federal departments (Education, Energy, Commerce) has proven to be empty bombast, is there any institution, or even any activity, of government your administration would terminate?

Now that Republicans regard education as among the most important federal issues, do you believe there is any sphere of American life that is none of the federal government's business?

Which would be most likely to improve education in grades K through 12--hiring 100,000 more teachers to slightly reduce class sizes or firing 100,000 incompetent teachers and having slightly larger classes?

Everyone talks about making high schools more demanding and colleges more accessible. Perhaps these objectives are in tension. Only a small fraction of America's 2,200 four-year degree-granting institutions are highly selective. The vast majority have, in effect, open admissions: if you have a high school diploma and a pulse, you can be admitted. This diminishes the incentive for rigor in high schools. Should there be fewer subsidized student loans and education tax credits that make it easier for students to attend college and cause colleges to lower standards in order to attract students bearing government money?

The Clinton administration is the first since America became a superpower in which neither the president nor his national- security adviser nor the secretary of State nor the secretary of Defense nor the director of the Central Intelligence Agency has served in the military. Do you think military service is an important qualification for senior national-security positions?

China is brazenly deploying missiles to intimidate the 22 million residents of Taiwan. What sort of arms, including missile defenses, would you sell, and what security guarantee would your administration provide to Taiwan, the first multiparty democracy in 4,000 years of Chinese history?

Japan's Constitution says "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation" and that "land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained." Given China's growing capacity for power projection, should it be U.S. policy to encourage Japan to revise its Constitution, or at least substantially expand the capabilities of its Self-Defense Force?

The most successful arms-control action of the nuclear age was strongly criticized at the time by the United States. It was Israel's 1981 attack on the Iraqi reactor. Should the United States now adopt a policy of similar preemption regarding Iraq, Iran, North Korea and other rogue nations nearing a nuclear capability?

Leave aside the question of the wisdom of using force against Serbia to compel better behavior toward, or even independence for, the Serbian province of Kosovo. But consider the matter of constitutional propriety. If you were president, would you regard congressional authorization as constitutionally required for such a calculated use of force?

Which is the more dangerously muscular monopoly--Microsoft, whose products' prices have fallen and whose competitors are thriving, or the Yankees, who just added Roger Clemens to a roster that won 125 games last year?