You might think that three hours is enough time for a presidential debate to offer up ideas on how to grow the economy.
You might think that a group of 11 people with such varied backgrounds – two CEOs, three senators, five current and former governors and one doctor – would have some fresh ideas how to create good-paying jobs.
But this is a Republican presidential debate, so even the CEOs aren’t good at creating jobs.
The jobs part of the debate began with the two CEOS, as CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked former Hewlett-Packard chief Carly Fiorina: “For voters looking to somebody with private-sector experience to create American jobs, why should they pick you and not Donald Trump?”
Carly Fiorina decided this would be a good time to talk about her checkered six-year stint at HP, her only experience as a CEO.
She spun her infamous 30,000 layoffs by saying she “saved 80,000 jobs.” She copped to being fired by the board in 2005, but said it was just evidence that when “you challenge the status quo, you make enemies.”
That excuse never satisfies. If she was really an awesome CEO who was underappreciated by a fractious board, then why didn’t she ever try to prove it? Why didn’t any other company hire her afterwards? Why didn’t she start her own company?
Instead of dwelling on her controversial tenure, she could have answered Tapper’s question by showing she at least had a detailed plan as president to use the tools of government to help create jobs.
But, as her website shows, she doesn’t have a detailed jobs plan.
When it was Donald Trump’s turn, he chose to attack Fiorina’s business record instead of offering his own ideas. (In fairness, Trump already answered the question how he would create jobs last week on The Tonight Show: “I’m just going to do it.”)
That only prompted Fiorina to remind the audience of Trump’s many bankruptcies: “You ran up mountains of debt, as well as losses, using other people’s money, and you were forced to file for bankruptcy not once, not twice, four times, a record four times.”
In fact, as the National Journal recently explained, Trump is no great businessman. He simply got an eight-figure inheritance and lived in an age of increasing wealthy inequality. If he did nothing but put his inheritance in a hum-drum index mutual fund, he would have made more money “without the high-drama, roller-coaster career that has included four corporate bankruptcies.”
With the two middling CEOs exposing each other inadequacies, the traditional politicians could have tried to offer some real policies.
Could have. But didn’t.
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Gov. John Kasich also tried to lean on experience, claiming his fiscal policies created jobs: “[I] went into Ohio and took an $8 billion hole and turned it into a $2 billion surplus. We’ve had the largest amount of tax cuts of any sitting governor. We’ve grown well over 300,000 jobs.”
Kasich leaves out that the whole country has been creating jobs after President Obama’s stimulus ended the Great Recession, yet Ohio’s job growth on Kasich’s watch has been below the national average.
A couple of candidates had the usual back-of-the-napkin proposals beloved by the far right.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee speciously claimed the “Fair Tax” – a plan to replace the progressive income tax with a more regressive sales tax – would “bring capital and labor to create jobs.”
Sen. Rand Paul hawked a flat income tax because “our companies, and our jobs are being chased overseas by a 70,000-page tax code,” never explaining how another giant tax cut for the wealthy would create jobs after the Bush tax cuts failed so miserably.
Gov. Scott Walker didn’t want to propose just one half-baked scheme, so he threw out this incoherent word salad: “That’s the way you help people create jobs. It’s part of our large plan to reform the tax code, to cut taxes, to put in place an education system that gives people the skills and education that they need, to put in place [an] ‘all [of] the above’ energy policy. But you start on day one with repealing Obamacare.”
Sen. Ted Cruz followed a similar path: “Young people coming out of school, with student loans up to their eyeballs, will find – instead of no jobs – two, three, four, five job opportunities. How will that happen? … We’ll pass a simple flat tax and abolish the IRS. And through regulatory reform, we will repeal every word of Obamacare.”
Lost on both Walker and Cruz: 13 million private sector jobs have been created since Obamacare was signed into law.
Sen. Marco Rubio’s only mention of jobs wasn’t to explain his own plans, but to deride President Obama’s efforts to solve the climate crisis: “We are not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing to change our climate.”
Of course, he is wrong on both counts. President Obama’s policies have already helped boost clean energy jobs by 16 percent in 2014 from the year prior, totally 724,000 jobs. And American leadership on cutting carbon is on the verge of creating a landmark global agreement.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush did not say the word “jobs” but he did claim to have a “4 percent growth strategy” in which he lumped all of his policy goals: “… we reform how we tax, fix the broken regulatory system, embrace the energy revolution in our midst, fix the immigration system so we can turn it into an economic driver, deal with the structural fiscal problems that exist because of our entitlement problems that will overwhelm and create way too much debt.”
He didn’t explain how his tax cuts and deregulation would create jobs and grow the economy, considering that his brother tried that and lost private sector jobs.
He also forgot to mention that gross domestic product growth in the second quarter of this year was 3.7 percent.