Jay Fleitman: Between lines on Clinton-Trump debate

Published: 10/4/2016 9:25:22 AM


This presidential campaign is being mostly fought on the level of character destruction. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump seem committed to wage this type of campaign and both candidates are especially vulnerable to this kind of attack.

This campaign has taken on this quality in part due to the way the media on both sides are presenting events. When the candidates are focusing on issues and positions, those efforts are covered by the news only with those snippets and soundbites which are disparaging to the other candidate.

The first presidential debate last week was unfiltered. The first third of it was devoted to a discussion of economic remedies, but afterwards the debate spun down to the personal. It made for good television, but it served our nation poorly.

An informed citizenry is entitled to consider how the person we are hiring to head up the government frames the problems of the nation and then plans to solve those problems. The election for president can have an important influence in the life of the nation. It sometimes is the point at which the direction of the country is up for rethinking.

The questions of what we are about as a country, how we approach our economy and ballooning debt and how we interact with the rest of the world all still lurk behind this presidential campaign. But this campaign is not an ideological struggle but a street fight.

Most voters don’t vote on ideological grounds anyway, but vote their pocketbooks, vote for their party, or vote on intangibles such as perceived character and trustworthiness. This year, the vote goes to who is disliked the least.

Clinton won the debate primarily on points, as it was not a pretty affair and substance was sparse. Among Trump's weaknesses is that he simply is not a terribly articulate person, which is a failing for a candidate but does not necessarily reflect on decision-making and managerial skills. This was his first one-on-one debate, which was a distinct disadvantage in facing an experienced Clinton.

That Trump missed multiple opportunities for effective parries to Clinton's well-rehearsed debate points does not mean those responses wouldn’t have been impactful. This is an opinion piece column, so I get a redo on the debate. Here it goes:

Clinton attacked Trump’s tax reduction plan as a tax break for his wealthy friends. Trump was proposing a corporate and not a personal tax reduction. Our corporate taxes are the highest in the industrial world, and reducing those tax rates will encourage companies to bring their business back to the U.S. and to repatriate trillions of dollars kept overseas away from this tax burden.

Clinton characterized his tax plan as more "trickle-down economics" which got us into this problem (the current state of the economy?) in the first place. No, Mrs. Clinton, "trickle-down economics" was the attack on Ronald Reagan's tax reductions in the 1980s which did lead to a boom in the economy.

What got us into these economic doldrums was a real estate bubble caused by the Federal Reserve’s artificially low interest rates, the federal government requiring banks to make subprime loans and then the large investment banks repackaging these loans and reselling them.

Clinton created a bogeyman about Trump's refusal to provide his tax returns. She had a long riff on what it could be that Trump was hiding.

What audacity by Mrs. Clinton.

She deleted 30,000 State Department emails on her private server and then obliterated that server in order to hide what could have been influence peddling through her position as secretary of state. Whatever is in Trump’s tax returns has clearly been legal as there is no evidence of an action by the IRS against Trump. He has not been investigated by the FBI and nearly indicted, as she has been.

In response to Trump’s nonsense about her stamina, Clinton was prepared with her answer that if she could stand up to 11 hours of congressional hearings, there should be no question about her stamina. (Audience applause).

But why was Clinton in those congressional hearings in the first place? Was it because she committed malpractice as secretary of state by not providing adequate security for her diplomats, leading to the death of four Americans in Libya? Or was it because she purposely mislead the country and lied to the families of those four dead Americans in order to continue a politically convenient narrative that the attacks were due to a video?

Trump was questioning why Clinton wasn't campaigning and instead was prepping for the debates. Clinton was ready for that one: "I am preparing to be president." (Applause).

Well, her attempt at health care reform when her husband was president was an absolute disaster. Her time as secretary of state left the Middle East in flames and her reset with Russia made Putin even more aggressive. How much practice does she need before she gets this right?

Last came Clinton's continued assault on Trump’s attitudes about women. Clinton really shouldn't go there. Her attempt to publicly destroy the several women who came out and accused her  husband of sexual harassment and even of rape was shameful.

If only life was like this: being able to go back after a week of further thinking and fix major screwups. Truthfully, I wish this election was already over. I’ve had it. I can barely watch the news these days. I wish I didn't care so much about it, but I do.

Jay Fleitman, M.D., lives in Northampton. His column appears the first Tuesday of the month. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.


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