It feels good to know that a thoughtful question during a presidential election makes a difference. When I had the chance to ask a question on a televised town hall to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in February, I went for what my colleague Rabbi Josh Feigelson calls a "Big Question."
Josh differentiates between "Hard Questions" and "Big Questions." A Big Question is something that matters to everyone and that everyone can answer. Big Questions elicit conversation and personal stories, and the conversations build connections. Hard Questions, which are important, depend more on expertise. Paradoxically, they also lead to debate and often to division.
Anyway, I asked a Big Question to Sec. Clinton about ego, humility, and leadership. She gave her response then, but what is amazing is that eight months later people are still bringing it up. See for instance these articles from the Washington Post a week and a half ago, the New York Times and Los Angeles Times and Politico just the past couple of days. The New York Times reporter called me to see if I had anything else to say about it. What I said, essentially, is that the continued resonance of that exchange points to the fact that there have been so few Big Question moments in the campaign, and people wish there were more.
My Nashua clergy colleagues and I invited candidates from both parties to Big Question forums before the New Hampshire primary. No one chose to come.
But as citizens, we shouldn't stop. We should try to get our Big Questions heard, and we should keep talking about them among ourselves. Rabbi Feigelson suggests some, such as: Who are we responsible for? We think it's obvious what a Democrat or a Republican would say. But how recently have we taken the time to say it out loud, especially to someone from another political background?
Rabbi Feigelson suggests a different version of the question about race, immigration, or bias: Who do you choose to ignore? Check out his post on "How to Build a Better Debate."
I am mulling over how to advance this perspective on Yom Kippur morning in my words. And in the meantime, I hope on Sunday evening more than one of the voters at the town-hall-style second debate will ask a Big Question.