[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.