Republican presidential candidates are reaping high television ratings for their entertaining but empty-calorie debates.
Meanwhile, Democratic candidates are attracting smaller audiences but holding more substantial interactions on issues that matter to Americans such as health care, foreign policy and the future of the U.S. economy.
Exhibit A: Contrast last Thursday’s GOP food fight with Sunday’s feisty Democratic event.
The bloated Republican field tussled over who can cling more strongly to guns, whether Ted Cruz is an American citizen and how Donald Trump really, really loves “New York values” (whatever those are).
The candidates seemed eager to get in personal digs as often as possible. Recall Chris Christie’s retort when Marco Rubio tried to speak: “You already had your chance, Marco. You blew it.” Or Rubio’s critique of the Trump-Cruz feud as an “episode of Court TV.” How presidential.
Meanwhile, Ben Carson remained a non-entity in the campaign, and John Kasich said something serious that no one remembers.
In a rare adult-in-the-room comment, Jeb Bush properly rebuffed Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering America. “This policy,” he said, “is a policy that makes it impossible to build the coalition necessary to hit ISIS.”
Remember that moment? Probably not because Trump quickly shot back, “I want security for this country.” Score one for sound bite over solid public policy.
Three days later, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took the stage to continue their surprisingly competitive battle for primary votes. (Yes, the well-meaning Martin O’Malley was on the stage, too. Enough said.)
As is usually the case, Clinton — a former secretary of state — flashed her comprehensive and superior knowledge of foreign policy issues, though she reminded some people of her vulnerabilities in that arena as well. She correctly criticized Sanders for voting “with the gun lobby numerous times” and pointed out that his newly unveiled single payer health care plan would go absolutely nowhere in Congress.
Sanders did provide clarity between some of his positions and Clinton’s. Sanders offered the appealing impression that he’d like to throw greedy big bankers in jail as part of Wall Street reforms, while Clinton has reaped millions of their dollars in speaking fees. Sanders had an effective attack line: “I don’t take money from big banks, I don’t get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs.”
Still, as his comments on health care and bankers show, Sanders the democratic socialist doesn’t live in this political moment’s real world of how U.S. policy can effectively get crafted.
For example, the better approach for a Democratic president working with a likely Republican-controlled Congress would be finding ways to make incremental fixes to the Affordable Care Act so millions more Americans can benefit from decent health care coverage.
That there’s even a discussion about health care initiatives among the Democrats is far better than the GOP scrum over the issue, which one can boil down to the tired and simplistic “repeal and replace.”
Clinton punctuated her performance with some forceful and much-needed outrage over the toxic-water scandal of Flint, Mich., the kind of real-life issue that her small-government, safety-net-averse GOP opponents haven’t come close to addressing.
Soon, voters are going to weigh in and make their choices, starting with the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1. Elections follow in New Hampshire on Feb. 9 and South Carolina on Feb. 20, and then a flood of voters troop to the polls on Super Tuesday, March 1. The Kansas caucus is March 5; the Missouri primary is March 15.
By that time, the 2016 presidential race likely will be a lot more settled. Or ... one or both parties could have chaos on their hands and be headed toward a brokered national convention this summer.
Americans would benefit greatly if candidates would discuss their real differences on serious issues facing the country.
The juvenile posturing among the gaggle of Republican candidates may be great for TV ratings. But it’s not a good way to help people select someone who might be the next president of the United States.