Americans aren’t getting the serious policy debate they want

David Meyers Former White House Staffer
Font Size:

The unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, jobless claims are up, and every single American owes a $45,000 share of the national debt. But these are not the headlines we see on our computer screens, televisions, or newspapers. Instead, we are bombarded with excessive coverage of Rep. Anthony Weiner, speculation about who might run for president, and the horserace for the Republican presidential nomination (even though the Iowa and New Hampshire contests are eight months away).

Americans say they want a serious discussion about our country’s problems, but they aren’t getting it. And they are getting frustrated. According to a recent Washington Post poll, a record 20 percent of Americans don’t have faith in either party’s ability to solve America’s crises.

Is the problem that politicians aren’t engaging in a serious discussion or that the media isn’t covering it? The answer is both.

For their part, some Republican presidential contenders have been trying to engage in a serious debate on economic policy. Tim Pawlenty gave a speech this week laying out a detailed economic vision and agenda. Whether or not you support his proposals, it can’t be denied that he has put forward the “new ideas” that Democrats and the American people have been challenging Republicans to produce.

But Pawlenty’s speech received practically no coverage in the media. Instead, we were forced to look at topless photos of a New York Congressman and listen to endless speculation about whether Sarah Palin is going to run for president, thanks to a cross-country bus tour that was void of new proposals or ideas.

Jon Huntsman has also been trying to engage the country in an adult conversation and has refused to insult or demean other presidential contenders. The former Utah governor defended this decision by saying, “I’m sick and tired of the divisiveness and if I go down in defeat talking about it, so be it.” According to his spokesman, “[Huntsman will] make it clear where he disagrees when it comes to policy…but for him this is a campaign based on substance and not names.”

Huntsman’s reward? Being criticized by Republican strategists for being “unrealistic” and employing a strategy that will “totally fail.” Huntsman, who served as President Obama’s ambassador to China, is the kind of bold, bipartisan leader that Americans have been looking for. But instead of coverage of Huntsman, we get endless speculation about Giuliani’s equivocal statements about running again, and unhelpful and crude rhetoric from candidates who do not have a serious chance at winning the Republican nomination.

For his part, President Obama is also trying to engage the country in a debate on issues such as the national debt and our economic recovery. While his claims and positions stoke wide disagreement, it would be nice if we received a full airing of them in the media (along with Republican counterarguments) rather than endless stories about Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner, Sarah Palin and Paul Revere.

Americans claim they want a real debate on the challenges facing our country. If they’re serious about it, they should demand it from their politicians and the media that covers them.

David Meyers served in the White House from 2006 to 2009, and later in the United States Senate. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.