If you thought Thursday night’s Fox Business Republican presidential debate left a lot of questions unanswered, and even more unasked, that are central to the national debate about jobs, the economy and the challenges working people face, you would be right.
We matched our Platform for People and the Planet, the 12-item Populism 2015 agenda that we released last year with the involvement and support of five other key progressive organizations, and a transcript of the GOP debate. It turns out there were a lot of misses.
Totally absent from the debate:
● Raising wages and reversing inequality. We know that the Republican candidates don’t support increasing the power of unions or increasing the minimum wage. But they didn’t even try to spell out that a conservative plan for raising wages and closing the gap between working families and the top 1 percent would look like.
● Investing in a green economy. The phrase “climate change” wasn’t even mentioned in the two-and-a-half hour debate, much less any strategy to move toward a green economy through investments in solar and renewables. There was, from Ohio Gov. John Kasich, incoherent praise of low oil prices and a call for continued fracking – in the face of depressed oil prices because of oversupply.
● Institutional racism. Crickets. Not even an acknowledgement of racial disparities in the economy and how the candidates might address them.
● Women’s economic equality. Women were never even mentioned except in references to “men and women,” except in a reference by Donald Trump to the “very few women” among the Syrian refugees (a debunked claim) and a reference by Marco Rubio to women sold “as brides” by ISIS.
● Make Wall Street serve the real economy. There were three mentions of The Wall Street Journal, but none of Wall Street itself – or of banks. Jeb Bush made an odd reference to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law – in a list of policies that included “Iran, Benghazi, the Russian reset” that would make Hillary Clinton a “national security disaster” as president.
● A high-quality education to every child. This issue only came up when Kasich said “we got to do a lot about the high cost of … higher education” and “sure that every American has the tools, in K-through-12 and in vocational education, in higher education” to obtain the skills to succeed. His answer? “It’s not that hard. Just know where you want to go, stick to your guts” – and cut taxes.
Six of the other issues on the platform were more directly alluded to during the debate. But those references were generally diametrically opposed to the objectives of the platform.
Chris Christie was the one candidate who fielded a question about rebuilding infrastructure, but his plan involved deeply cutting taxes for corporations that have harbored profits overseas to avoid taxation altogether. That deal would be coupled with a larger corporate tax cut.
Donald Trump essentially spit in the face of Black Lives Matters activists and others concerned about unjust use of police violence by declaring that “the police are the most mistreated people in this country.” Not to be outdone, Christie condemned the Obama administration for actions that “give the benefit of the doubt to the criminal, not to the police officers.”
When Social Security came up during the debate, the discussion first devolved into an argument between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio over whether Cruz supported a “value added tax” – a kind of sales tax. Then Christie alleged that the Republican Congress “consorted” with President Obama and “stole $150 billion from the Social Security retirement funds to give it to the Social Security disability fund” – a ridiculous charge given that what really happened was a relatively routine transfer from one trust fund to the other that has happened several times in the past without fanfare.
On a trade policy that works for working people, Trump once again brandished his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement and said he would favor imposing a tariff on goods from China if it continued its currency manipulation. That riled up the free trade opposition among the rest of the candidates, with Rubio declaring that the way to respond to China’s unfair trade practices is to cut business taxes and regulations, and eliminate Obamacare, “a certified job killer.”
You get the point. If you were looking for reasons to be afraid, to despair for the future of the country and to be angry, there was plenty for you in Thursday’s debate. Answers that address core challenges working families face and approaches that offer hope that those challenges can be met? Not so much.