Parsing Last Night's Democratic Debate

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Three points about last night's Democratic debate in Manchester, N.H.:

1) Imagine a Democratic presidential debate about foreign policy where Iraq was never mentioned. That was pretty much the case at last night's candidate face-off when it came to domestic policy. Little was said about the long-term direction of the U.S. economy and what could be done to make it more innovative, competitive, and productive—the keys to raising our standard of living as we compete with China and India in the 21st century. Out of roughly 20,000 spoken words, mentions of "innovation," zero; "competitive," one (Richardson); "productivity," zero; "trade," six (Kucinich); "growth," one (Dodd); "China," six (Dodd, Kucinich, Richardson); "India," none; "middle class," three (Edwards, Clinton); "technology," three (Dodd, Obama, Richardson).

2) At one point, the candidates were asked what they would do about high gasoline prices. Most gave answers about what could be done to achieve energy independence in the long term. But as for right now, no one had much of an answer other than investigating the oil companies for collusion or price gouging. Nothing was said about the lack of refining capacity being the cause of the latest price surge. Also, none of the candidates—other than megadarkhorse Mike Gravel—suggested that high gas prices were, in fact, a good thing. If you are concerned about climate change, as the Dems say they are, shouldn't you cheer higher gas prices, since they might cause Americans to a) drive less and b) encourage greater investment in alternative energy sources?

3) The Democratic candidates continue to strangely double-spend the money they intend to get from raising taxes on Americans making over $200,000 a year. At one point, both Edwards and Obama said they would help pay for their healthcare plans by taxing the so-called rich to the tune of $50 billion a year. But guess what, advocates of reforming the alternative minimum tax—and Edwards, Obama, and Clinton certainly have that goal—usually point to higher taxes on the rich as a way of paying for AMT reform. So, AMT or healthcare: Which is it? A recent analysis by the Urban Institute put it this way:

"Blame whomever you want for today's current fiscal mess, but don't cling to any myths about how far rescinding recent tax cuts for the rich would go toward meeting the nation's many budgetary shortfalls. Our elected officials simply cannot get around the most fundamental of political dilemmas. Even if they enact additional taxes on the rich—and that would not be easy—they still must either retract many of the promises made to the middle class, increase its taxes, or both."