On October 7 2014, Oklahoma State University hosted a U.S. Senate debate between the two major party candidates for Oklahoma’s Class 3 Senate seat. The debate was held at OSU’s Student Union Theater. The Democrat was State Senator Connie Johnson (SD-48) and the Republican was Representative James Lankford (OK-5).
Debate stage at OSU Student Union Theater
For the most part, the two candidates were respectful and there was no real acrimony between the two. I of course agreed with Johnson much more, but her answers tended to be unfocused and shallow. She did speak explicitly about the role of government several times, saying that government was there to take care of societal things that individuals could not handle on their own, and I greatly appreciated that. Lankford’s responses tended to address the questions much more directly and thoroughly than Johnson’s did, and to some extent I was impressed with his performance.
Students were allowed to submit questions to be asked of both candidates, and I submitted four questions in the hopes that one of them would be selected. They were:
- Do you support the policy of using drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens?
- Would you vote to expand Medicare to cover every U.S. citizen?
- Would you vote to create a public health insurance option?
- Would you vote for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and create a public campaign financing system?
My Candidate Question Form
It turned out that a question similar to #4 was one of the regular debate questions. Johnson supported overturning Citizens United (though she wasn’t asked about, and didn’t directly address, creating a public campaign financing system. Lankford was against it.
My first question, about drone strikes, was chosen as the first student question. You can watch the debate here, and my question comes up at around 44:46.
Johnson went first. Her answer was basically no, but it was short and unfocused, and she seemed to be a little unprepared for discussing this particular issue.
Lankford went next. His answer was yes, and I was pleased that it was longer, more focused, and more direct than Johnson’s. But he also threw up a bunch of red herrings that distracted from the main point of the question. He brought up the issue of whether it was more ethical to have a manned fighter jet launch the missiles that killed their targets rather than have an unmanned drone do it. My problem with “drone strikes” aren’t the drones at all (in fact, I love the idea of keeping our pilots out of danger), but rather the missiles they use, since it’s hard to precisely kill one individual with a missile as opposed to, say, wiping out 49 civilians for each target. I used the term “drone strikes” not because I cared about the drones but because it was easier than writing “aerial bombardment such as that currently being used in Yemen and Pakistan”.
He also said that while U.S. citizens did have constitutional protections, and that he supported capturing suspects who were U.S. citizens and putting them on trial, many of them could not be done so safely, and drone strikes were justified when they were used to stop imminent threats. He compared killing a suspected terrorist to a policeman shooting an armed gunman in a public place. Okay, if a terrorist is seen about to press the button to launch an ICBM aimed at the United States, yes we should immediately kill or otherwise incapacitate him, whether he’s a U.S. citizen or not, but nothing even remotely close to that has ever happened. Instead, many of the targets of drone strikes aren’t even anti-American. Lankford mentioned that the policy needed more oversight and I really hope he gets into that when he goes to the Senate, because as it is he seems to be blissfully unaware of the abuses of drone strikes that he could find out about from a one-minute Google search.
While I was glad to hear Lankford’s response, I agreed with Johnson on every issue, and I was very glad to see her use pro-government rhetoric in her responses. I endorse Connie Johnson for the U.S. Senate.