Issues related to economics and business were front and center during the first presidential debate. There is a lot I could discuss, but Lester Holt’s opening question is enough for this post:
There are two economic realities in America today. There’s been a record six straight years of job growth, and new census numbers show incomes have increased at a record rate after years of stagnation. However, income inequality remains significant, and nearly half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Beginning with you, Secretary Clinton, why are you a better choice than your opponent to create the kinds of jobs that will put more money into the pockets of American workers?
First, Holt’s question is far too generous to President Obama’s record on the economy. The “job growth” he mentioned is expected in a lackluster economy, so “six straight years” is no accomplishment. The income increase he referenced only appeared in the most recent data and does not negate the rest of Obama’s tenure as president. Holt also overlooked the extremely low labor participation rates, especially among youth and minorities.
Second, Holt’s question legitimizes the 2004 “two Americas” argument by former Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards. Of course, versions of the haves and have-nots argument have been bantered around politically since the days of Marx and Engels.
Third, Holt assumes that it’s the role of the President and/or federal government to “put more money in the pockets of American workers.” It’s not. The government’s role is to protect liberty so we can achieve on our own. Instead of opening the discussion on how much government intervention is best, Holt framed the debate as one over which type of intervention is best.
Finally, Holt made Hillary Clinton’s most difficult argument for her. Secretary Clinton needs to stay close enough to Obama to leverage his strength with certain voter groups, but far enough away to combat Trump on trade and other vulnerable issues. By establishing the pretext that Obama has advanced the economy but more intervention is necessary, he set the stage for Clinton’s narrative.
Holt’s opening question introduced a subtle bias that was present throughout the evening and set the stage for the debate. Hillary Clinton was ready for the softball he tossed her, responding as if on cue with all of the predictable clichés—“trickle down economics,” the need to “help families,” and making the “wealthy pay their fair share.”
If you’re upset about the bias, get used to it.