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Tuesday, September 27, 2022 — Houston, TX

Why Obama, Romney, and the American people lost the debate

By Neeraj Salhotra     10/4/12 7:00pm

As the first presidential debate ended, I found myself asking: How did everyone lose that debate? While Governor Mitt Romney may have done slightly better than President Barack Obama, nobody, not even the American people, truly triumphed. 

This debate presented both candidates with an opportunity to offer a vision for addressing two of our nation's greatest challenges - widening income inequality and falling social mobility - which trap low-income Americans in poverty and prevent thousands of underserved students from reaching their dreams. Yet, neither candidate mentioned terms such as equality of opportunity, American Dream or socioeconomic mobility. Obama, for example, explained the nuances of specific policy proposals, including his proposed Medicare savings, the Dodd-Frank legislation and the Independent Payment Advisory Board that would offer recommendations as to which medical procedures actually work. Romney, on the other hand, was rather vague about his tax reform proposal, his healthcare plan and his financial reform initiative. Perhaps the only matter on which Romney was specific was his desire to cut the subsidy to the Public Broadcasting Service, despite his professed love for Big Bird. These issues are all crucially important; however, neither candidate discussed the real suffering many Americans are feeling. 

Although statistics never truly capture people's pain, the magnitude of our challenges can be seen through three numbers. Firstly, the top 1 percent of Americans currently hold nearly 18 percent of the nation's income, and the top 20 percent control 50 percent of the nation's income. Secondly, 42 percent of American children born in the lowest income quintile will remain in that quintile when they become adults. Thirdly, 15 percent of Americans live below the poverty line. These numbers together paint a dismal reality, wherein many Americans are mired in a cycle of poverty, making social mobility a fantasy. 



These statistics may seem vacuous, but they represent real people who cannot determine their own futures. These are kids who live in a low-income ZIP code, attend a sub-par school and are therefore unable to attend college. These are parents who work multiple jobs but because of inadequate government support cannot provide for their families. These are youth who face neighborhood violence that stifles their academic potential. Most importantly, these are our fellow Americans, with values, dreams and aspirations similar to our own, who cannot achieve a middle-class life. 

While both candidates claim to care about these Americans, neither presented a plan to fix their situation. Neither articulated a vision that would reduce income inequality by increasing the tax code's progressivity, improving our educational system and strengthening our transfer system. Neither candidate outlined a plan to expand programs like Pell Grants or Earned Income Tax Credits that help low-income Americans achieve their aspirations. Neither candidate, perhaps most unfortunately, explained their aspiration of ensuring that every American, regardless of the community in which they live, can achieve the American dream. This single failure left the American people losers of this debate, and if neither candidate develops a plan to expand equality of opportunity, perhaps the people will find themselves losers for the next four years as well. 



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