Candidates need to debate issues that will make our nation stronger

Candidates need to debate issues that will make our nation stronger
© Getty Images

We are not even halfway through this year, however, the 2020 election has already commanded public attention. The splashy announcement of the reelection campaign of our current president and the highly anticipated Democratic Party debates have filled the news headlines. In one sense, especially for those susceptible to attack ad fatigue, this is all painfully soon. But in another respect, it is not a moment too soon. The nation has truly important business to do. Unfortunately, the conversation thus far has focused on the trivial. It needs to move to the essential. Our dialogue centers on arguably political questions. Should the United States replace capitalism with socialism? By the way, before we do, what is that? Should the government start mass deportation of undocumented immigrants?

We are concerned that the political is displacing the critical. Think about what our elected leaders could be doing. Our position within the global economy is eroding. Our collective prosperity is growing too slowly, and our world leadership is challenged by other countries. Many Americans are rightly frustrated their living standards have been stagnant while they have played by the rules, and in too many instances, their children are lined up to be stuck in their footprints. Our nation has made far too little progress in educating and training our young people. The perception of dead ends to workers carrying volumes of student debt is demoralizing and leaves too many citizens with little hope and little realistic ambition.

Meanwhile, our nation is losing its influence over behavioral standards in commerce. All Americans certainly want their fellow countrymen to lead better lives. If we believe that our moral leadership will bring fair play in the global market, with the United States and all countries prospering and contributing in a virtuous circle to greater health and wealth everywhere, then we need to work to maintain our prestige and position on the world stage. China challenges not only our prosperity but also our values, and we must lead to maintain the rules and standards of a fair global economy.

ADVERTISEMENT

Much of the root of our slow growth economy rests in a short term policy focus. If our incomes individually and collectively are not growing fast enough, then we must siphon off too much for consumption to maintain our standards of living today. The shrinking remaining savings leave too little to build for the future and create a vicious cycle. Our nation has eroding infrastructure, a failing educational system, and lagging research budgets for technology. Workers have inadequate retirement savings spread too thinly over an unsustainable Social Security program. No wonder so many Americans fear for their futures and for their children.

Fixing these problems will take money. The sum of available public funds is negative. Before we can think of investing in education, infrastructure, or research and development, we must mend a budget that is turning out a mountain of debt. A primary cause of this wound is the cost of health care, over which we have one of several irreconcilable public conflicts. One side wants to repeal the system with no available replacement, while the other wants to replace the system with another that will cost far more. Washington cannot bring itself to raise its debt limit to prevent default, or to fund the federal government to prevent the disruption of a shutdown.

These enormous challenges should motivate our nation in much the same way as the perils of past world wars did our forebears. Our citizens today are Americans just as much as those who rose up together during those past crises. Unfortunately, our elected leaders today bicker over their own political futures instead of that of our nation. So bring on the debates. But debate what matters instead of what panders. We urge our fellow citizens to look up toward the horizon rather than down in the political gutter, and demand debate and decisions that build a better nation for the long haul.

Bernard Bailey is president of the Committee for Economic Development. He serves on the board of directors of Telos Corporation and is chairman of the board of Authentix Corporation. Joseph Minarik is senior vice president at the Committee for Economic Development. He was chief economist at the White House Office of Management and Budget for President Clinton.