There is not too much I recall or want to remember about the second US Presidential debate (7 October 2008) but the final ‘zen-like’ question posed by Tom Brokaw is resounding in my ears.
The question, or two questions in one, was sent in by ‘Peggy from Amherst’: “What don’t you know and how will you learn it?”
It was the best question of the night. I don’t think either candidate answered this question satisfactorily. Their approach was to turn the question into an opportunity to tell viewers what they did know.
Barack Obama made a quick joke (“My wife, Michelle, is there, and she could give you a list”), observed that it's the unexpected challenges that often consume most of a president's time, then changed the subject to the American dream.
John McCain explained that “what I don't know is what all of us don't know, and that's what's going to happen ... what I don't know is what the unexpected will be.” Then he too changed the subject. [See both candidates answer the question at this link]
I have got lots of mileage from this question as I have kept mulling it over each day since that debate.
In order to assert his experience and readiness to lead from Day 1 John McCain keeps on saying that the Presidential role is not one for ongoing training. I understand that he is saying that the job requires gifts and competencies right from the start. But hopefully a President will identify areas for improvement and surround himself with competent people so that he will be a person who is for ever growing and learning.
The questions are usually more important and instructive than the answers. I am working on my answers and identifying some learning challenges.
What about you?
What things don’t you know or what things do you need to know?
How will you learn them?
Dr Geoff Pound
Image: Presidential debaters.