[Guest editorial by Iowa CCI Executive Director Hugh Espey appeared in the August 18, 2011 Des Moines Register]

Pres­idential can­didates, including Barack Obama, must be asked tough questions on the Iowa campaign trail so the nation can learn exactly where the can­didates stand on bread and butter issues that mat­ter most to ev­eryday people.

That’s exactly what members of Iowa Cit­i­zens for Community Improve­ment (CCI) did at the State Fair last week when we asked Re­publican pres­idential can­didate Mitt Romney and Demo­crat­ic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz how they would strengthen Social Secu­rity, Medicare, and Med­icaid with­out cutting ben­efits, and make Wall Street corporations pay their fair share of taxes.

Romney’s head­line-grabbing quip — his as­sertion that “corporations are people, my friend” — was like a kick in the gut to millions of ev­eryday people struggling in the mid­dle of a Great Re­ces­sion that was caused by big bank and corporate greed.

Regard­less of what the Supreme Court says about corporate person­hood, the claim that corporations are people with inher­ent human rights fails the common-sense test and goes against ev­eryday people’s ba­sic notions of de­cency, equality and fairness.

But all the con­tro­ver­sy surrounding Romney’s re­mark obscured Romney’s actual pol­icy propos­als. When a re­tired teach­er from Des Moines asked Romney if he support­ed scrapping the Social Secu­rity payroll tax cap, Romney responded by saying he supports “progressive price indexing” for Social Secu­rity and a “high­er re­tire­ment age” for Social Secu­rity and Medicare.

Trans­lated into En­glish, that means Romney wants to cut ben­efits for Iowa se­niors, a fact that also should have made head­lines.

An­oth­er mis­sed head­line: Too many Democrats also want to cut Social Secu­rity, Medicare and Med­icaid rather than make big corporations and the super-wealthy pay their fair share.

Af­ter Romney’s “corporations are people” gaffe, Wasserman Schultz was quick to issue a state­ment saying that Romney and the GOP are push­ing policies that put corporate inter­ests ahead of the common good. But Wasserman Schultz, a con­gresswoman from Florida, actually voted for the bad debt ceiling deal that cuts trillions in spending with­out any guar­anteed new rev­enues and sets up a “super-committee” with a mandate to cut Social Secu­rity, Medicare and Med­icaid ben­efits. Pres­ident Obama was the Demo­crat who signed the bad deal into law.

That’s why CCI members also asked Wasserman Schultz tough questions at the State Fair. Al­though the Demo­crat­ic Party is already rais­ing mon­ey with a new TV ad tar­geting Romney and his “corporations are people” line, the fact is that the Demo­crat­ic Party all too of­ten adopts populist rhetoric while push­ing the same pro-corporate policies as the GOP.

When we tried to ask Wasserman Schultz to clar­ify her — and Pres­ident Obama’s — po­sition on this issue, she lit­erally ran away from the questions rather than answer them. At least Romney en­gaged in the demo­crat­ic process, faced tough questions and stood his ground.

Pres­idential can­didates and oth­er leaders from both po­lit­ical parties — including the pres­ident — need to know that they can expect tough questions on the Iowa campaign trail and that ev­eryday Iowans will hold them account­able for their answers. If they don’t answer clearly or hon­estly, they should be called out.

There’s too much at stake this year to play “Iowa nice” and let the can­didates have their photo ops and give their stump speeches with­out be­ing chal­lenged on the things that re­ally mat­ter — like how they plan to crack down on Wall Street greed and start putting communities before corporations and people before prof­its.