We’re All Missing The Debate

I wrote this Saturday morning (before I even knew there was a Dem debate last night). Then decided that while it does contrast the conflict between campaigns & policy it really wasn’t what I wanted for this week’s column. And while it’s also not “GAPol” we will from time to time dabble in bigger picture campaign themes here and there will be days where talking about the Presidential contest will be unavoidable. Bottom line: It’s a holiday and this was already written so consider this a bonus post. – CBH

I didn’t watch the GOP presidential debate last week. I arrived home just in time to see it, only to find that the cable that has been delivering broadband to my home for the last three years had decided it wanted to be replaced. Instead, I got a good night’s sleep.

As a result, I got to “see” the debate as most Americans do – through the reactions of social media and from the candidates themselves as they play offense or defense in successive news cycles. As best I can tell, the future of our country now depends on whether a someone born in Canada of Cuban ancestry can determine if people from New York are worthy for their values to be called American.

And before my Democratic friends jump on board and point and laugh – please let me know when your team plans on scheduling an actual debate when people are likely to watch. It’s obvious they’re shooting for a coronation. I at least applaud your chosen one for finally letting journalists out of the makeshift rope pen used in one of her early, barely scripted, spontaneous public appearances.

Modern campaigns are no longer a preview of governance or policy. They are a competitor.

Campaigns are highly scripted and overly consulted exercises in marketing. Campaigns, especially those in primaries, are increasingly designed not to enlighten voters on issues and positions, but obfuscate them. It is much easier to convince a potential voter that a certain candidate occupies a moral high ground than it is to educate a skeptical public on how tough choices will be made.

Tough choices evoke the reality that not everyone will get what they want along the way to solving problems. It’s easier to just change the subject to something the public can be convinced is crucial, but in reality is the equivalent of having them choose between their favorite flavor of vanilla.

If this Presidential campaign were about issues, we probably would be asking different questions of our candidates. I’ll list a few.

Oil has dropped below $30 per barrel. While this will show some short-term consumer benefits, the long-term consequence is that low cost foreign suppliers will decimate US domestic oil industry and block investment in alternative energy technology. What does each candidate feel is an appropriate national energy strategy to keep US consumers’ energy dollars at home creating domestic jobs? Or does the candidate prefer allowing a hands off “free market/free trade” approach that may likely result in soon returning to a dependence on foreign oil – and the often adversarial countries that supply it?

While China has been criticized for “currency manipulation”, China has made itself an integral part of the US manufacturing supply chain and is one of the largest purchasers of US debt. China appears on the verge of economic turmoil and is an environmental nightmare. If the US wasn’t dependent on China to finance our budget deficits the US would be in a prime position to demand policies to improve human rights, better environmental responsibility, and respect for U.S. intellectual property laws. How specifically does each candidate see the US-China relationship in his/her administration and what points of leverage – specifically balancing our national budget – can be expected to be used?

Part of the anger displayed from both parties has been from those who believe the middle class is disappearing as a rapidly changing economy and employment structure has made the concept of a 30-year bargain for work and then a comfortable retirement a quaint memory of yesteryear. How would your administration restore the American dream where anyone can seize opportunity to work, prosper, and retire in relative economic security? And how does this plan balance with America’s role in an increasingly globalized economy where America is a high-wage, high-cost producer?

To be fair, some candidates have tried to address these and other substantive issues more than others. It would take the commitment of both members of the media and the voting public to demand the specifics required to compare and contrast candidates on these issues.

Math, as they say, is hard. Foreign policy and economic nuance are even harder. And it’s a lot easier to debate by saying “my guy is good and your gal is bad”.

In keeping of the spirit that this is a space dedicated to “Georgia” politics, let’s add an important local corollary. The Georgia General Assembly is now in session, and this is an election year. We have 35 days left to govern, as most legislators in Atlanta are working hard to do. Others realize that the primaries are 4 months away. Or that the 2018 race will begin publicly soon.

Some in Atlanta are trying to govern. Others are asserting moral high ground in search of an ever-important leg up on their next political race. Never forget that multiple agendas are always in play with any proposed piece of legislation.

In campaigns and governing, we have a lot of surface level discussion about the intentions of our founding fathers. One thing they certainly intended but seems missing: They intended those that exercised their right to vote to work to be informed citizens and demand informed debate. And they intended us to be as concerned about actual policies than just the observing the sport of a competitive campaign.

That seems to be a lost American value. In New York and everywhere else.

Charlie Harper is the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, a public policy think tank focused on issues of Business & Economic Development, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation. He’s also the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com, a website dedicated to State & Local politics of Georgia.


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