October 31, 2015

The Comic Book Debate

It's a rare day that I find myself in agreement with Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Jeb! Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican candidates - it takes the moon, stars and planets being in complete disarray, I think. But that's exactly what happened the other night.

If you watched, listened to, read the transcript or heard anything about the CNBC "debate" I think you'd find yourself in agreement with them as well.

Let's set the stage first: according to CNBC, this debate featured "the best team in business"  and it was "the first debate focused on Your Money, Your Vote" - you know, tough economic issues like the shrinking global economy, growing national debt, beaten-down middle class and all that. So naturally I expected questions on the candidates' tax plans, job plans, deficit reduction ideas, and so on.

It was no surprise then, that the opening question from Carl Quintanilla was this:
This series of debates is essentially a job interview with the American people. And in any job interview, you know this: you get asked "what's your biggest weakness?"  So in 30 seconds, without telling us that you try to hard or that you're a perfectionist (cue the giggles) what's your biggest weakness and what are you doing to address it?
I was seriously afraid the second question was going to be "If you were a tree..." But it was worse than that.  Here's John Harwood:
Mr Trump, you've done very well in this campaign so far by promising to build a wall and make another country pay for it. (Trump agrees). Send 11 million people out of the country. Cut taxes $10 trillion without increasing the deficit. (Trump agrees). And make Americans better off because your greatness would replace the stupidity and incompetence of others. (Again, Trump agrees). Let's be honest. Is this a comic book version of a presidential campaign?
Now, I get that media folks are having a blast with the whole "Republican clown car" campaign thing, and I get that Trump's ideas are presented in an entertaining way, with lots of hair and bluster and waving hands and scowling and all.  But how seriously should a candidate take that kind of question? Here's where Trump started:
No, not a comic book, and it's not a very nicely asked question the way you say that.(veritable pastiche agrees) 
There's more. Like Carly Fiorina trying to make the point on tax code simplification; she wants us to reform the entire thing., and expressed frustration with the fact that there's been zero progress on tax reform for years.
Let me just say on taxes, how long have we been talking about tax reform in Washington? We have been talking about it for decades. We now have a 73,000 page tax code.  There have been more than 4,00 changes to the tax plan since 2001 alone.  There are load of great ideas, great conservative ideas from wonderful think tanks about how to reform the tax code. The problem is we never get it done.
Enter the giggling Quintanilla again.
CQ: You want to bring 70,000 pages to three? 
CF: That's right, three pages.
CQ: Is that using really small type?
CF: You know why three?
CQ: Is that using really small type? 
No, Carl, you moronic comic book moderator (I wish she had said).
Because three pages is about the maximum that a single business owner, or a farmer, or just a couple, can understand without hiring somebody. Almost 60 percent of American people now need to hire an expert to understand their taxes.
Same on other tax plans. Complete doubt from the best-in-the-business moderators, without really even allowing the candidates to speak to their plans, because the 'experts' have determined that mocking questions are "hard questions" and that we'll find out what we need to know if they act like jerks and treat the candidates as cannon fodder.

The next question on the economy, jobs, taxes, growth, entitlements and the rest of the Your Money, Your Vote conversation was this one, again from Quintanilla, for Marco Rubio:
You've been a young man in a hurry ever since you won your first election in your 20s. You've had a big accomplishment in the Senate, an immigration bill providing a path to citizenship the conservatives in your party hate, and even you don't support anymore,  Now, you're skipping more votes than any senator to run for president. Why not slow down, get a few more things done first or at least finish what you start?
Rubio's answer referenced all of these: people living paycheck to paycheck with no raises and costs going up, struggling small businesses, a world out of control, our weakened military, a 'bipartisan' $19T debt, and our borrowing from 'countries that don't like us' to keep things running. So, naturally, Quintanilla's followup question was exactly on point:
So when the Sun-Sentinel says Rubio should resign, not rip us off, when they say Floridians sent you to Washington to do a job, when they say you act like you hate your job, do you?
Do you, Mr. Jones?

John Harwood again, questioning Jeb! on his falling poll numbers ("you're at the fifth lectern tonight"), posed this thoughtful question:
It's a question about why you're having difficulty. I want to ask you in this context. Ben Bernanke, who was appointed Fed chairman by your brother, recently wrote a book in which he said he no longer considers himself a Republican because the Republican Party has given in to know-nothingism. Is that why you're having a difficult time in this race? 
I'm not kidding, That really was the question.

Becky Quick, the third alleged moderator, did her part to glean key strategic information from the candidates as well. She had a 146-word question for Fiorina, which boiled down to this:
You know, we look back, your board fired you, why should we hire you now?
Quintanilla, asking Cruz about  his opinion on the bill to raise the debt ceiling and prevent another government shutdown:
Does your opposition to it show that you're not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?
Huh?

And Quick, asking Trump about his plans for our future economic security:
Bankruptcy is a broken promise. Why should the voters believe the promises you're telling them now?
There were more. On the question of Wall Street bankers not going to jail, and GM's issue with the faulty ignition switch, this question was posed to Christie:
As a former prosecutor, do you believe the people responsible for the switch and the cover-up belong behind bars?  
Not sure how that impacts my personal financial growth or my retirement fund; pretty sure I can't figure out why asking Marco Rubio why he liquidated his personal retirement account after he made a million bucks on a book deal has anything to do with my 401(k) and Social Security, but yes, that question happened too.

Here's another totally irrelevant question on hot-button economic issues, and a perfectly relevant answer. Harwood again, and Huckabee:
JH: Governor Huckabee, you've written about the huge divide in values between middle America and the big coastal cities like NY and Los Angeles. As a preacher as well as a politician, you know that presidents need the moral authority to bring the entire country together. The leading Republican candidate, when you look at the average of national polls right now, is Donald Trump. When you look at him, do you see someone with the moral authority to unite the country?
MH: You know, of the few questions I've got, the last one I need is to give him some more time. I love Donald Trump. He is a good man. I'm wearing a Trump tie tonight. Get over that one, OK?
Quintanilla further cemented his lightweight, incompetent, media-clown-car designated driver persona with this question for Jeb!
Governor Bush, daily fantasy sports has become a phenomenon in this country, will award billions of dollars in prize money this year.  But to play you have to assess your odds, put money at risk, wait for an outcome that's out of your control. Isn't that the definition of gambling, and should the Federal Government treat it as such?
At one point, Chris Christie allowed as how Harwood was being rude, even by New Jersey standards.

A friend of mine, when we come across things that are just mind-blowing at work, has a go-to phrase that I think is completely appropriate to summarize this 'debate':
You just can't sit around a campfire and make this crap up.
I've said it before and I'll say it again -- we deserve so much more, and so much better. What CNBC tried to pass off as a debate was a mockery -- and you don't need to be a card-carrying liberal to see that.

I'm going to stay on this topic for another post or two; I hope you'll stick around.