The spectacles we persist in dignifying as presidential "debates" -- two-minute regurgitations of rehearsed responses -- often subtract from the nation's understanding. But beginning this Wednesday, these less-than-Lincoln-Douglas episodes might be edifying if the candidates can be inveigled into plowing fresh ground.
The judiciary. Three justices will be in their 80s before the next presidential term ends, so the next president probably can solidify today's conservative majority or create a liberal majority.
For Mitt Romney: Many conservatives advocate "judicial restraint," denouncing "judicial activism" and defining it as not properly deferring to decisions by government's majoritarian branches. Other conservatives praise "judicial engagement" and define it as actively defending liberty against overbearing majorities. Do you favor "restraint" or "engagement"? Do you reject the Kelo decision, in which the Supreme Court deferred to governments' desire to seize private property and give it to wealthier private interests who would pay higher taxes?
For Barack Obama: You deplore the court's Citizens United decision. What is your constitutional basis for rejecting the decision's principle that Americans do not forfeit their First Amendment rights when they come together in corporate entities to speak collectively? You say you would "seriously consider" amending the First Amendment to empower Congress to regulate political speech. Explain why you choose to make the Bill of Rights less protective.
Foreign policy. For both: On Oct. 7, we begin the 12th year of the war in Afghanistan, and 51 recent NATO fatalities have been at the hands of our supposed Afghan allies, causing U.S. commanders to indefinitely suspend many joint operations. Why are we staying there 27 more months?
For Romney: You envision "countervailing duties" to punish China for manipulating the value of its currency. Do the "quantitative easings" by Ben Bernanke's Federal Reserve, which vastly expanded the money supply, constitute currency manipulation? Would duties increasing the prices Americans pay for Chinese imports violate your vow to not raise taxes?
For Obama: Your campaign boasts about increasing the number of unfair-trade charges against China. How would Americans' welfare be enhanced by raising the prices they pay for consumer goods and production materials from China?
Domestic policy. For Obama: Your opponent proposes cutting income tax rates 20 percent and implies he'd pay for this partly by means testing some deductions. Do you oppose his plan for making the income tax more progressive?
For Romney: You say "redistribution" has "never been a characteristic of America." You're kidding, right? Is not most of what government does -- from agriculture subsidies to entitlements -- the redistribution of wealth from one cohort or region to another?
For Obama: You recently said changing Washington "from the outside" is "how some of our biggest accomplishments like health care got done -- mobilizing the American people." You're kidding, right? A majority of the American people never supported passage of Obamacare. Did you not secure passage by deals with Big Pharma and other inside Washington players?
For both: Do you agree that a financial institution that is too big to fail is too big to exist? If not, why not?
For Obama: Your deep blue Illinois -- like another essentially one-party Democratic state, California -- is buckling under the weight of its portion of the estimated $2.5 trillion in unfunded state pension obligations. Will you promise to oppose attempts to force the taxpayers to bail out badly governed states?
For both: Do you assume the Almighty is not paying attention whenever you say "I approve this message"?
George Will is a nationally syndicated columnist.