A two-and-a-half hour debate between seven democratic presidential candidates Thursday night failed to include any questions centered on small business, entrepreneurship, or innovation. In fact, the only mention of any of those words came during Andrew Yang's closing statement, when he mentioned he'd been an "ambassador for entrepreneurship" under President Obama.
In general, business concerns got little airtime compared with topics including foreign policy, investments in health care and education, and campaign finance. The candidates did discuss the USMCA trade deal between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, and said the economy is not as strong as macroeconomic indicators would suggest. Senator Bernie Sanders briefly mentioned "making the minimum wage a living wage," but did not elaborate.
There were the very few wildcard moments. When asked about President Obama's recent statement that if women are "indisputably better" than men, Andrew Yang replied, "Our country is deeply misogynist and all of us know that. Strong societies would elect more female leaders. ... You get too many men alone and leave us alone for a while we kind of become morons." Along the same lines, Tim Alberta, of Politico, tried to begin a question to Senator Elizabeth Warren with, "You would be the oldest President ever inaugurated," and she shot back, "I'd also be the youngest woman ever inaugurated."
Few Fireworks: Trade and the Economy
The candidates disagreed on the merits of the new North American trade deal, which the U.S. House of Representatives recently approved. Amy Klobuchar said she would support it, because it included "better labor standards, better environmental standards, and a better deal when it comes to the pharmaceutical provisions." Sanders said he would not be voting for it, because it represented only "modest" improvements over previous versions. He did not think it would be a powerful job creator, and said that, "at the end of the day, it is not going to stop outsourcing, it is not going to stop corporations from moving to Mexico, where manufacturing workers make less than $2 per hour."
Despite the fact that the unemployment rate is low and the stock market is doing well, none of the candidates was willing to say that the economy was healthy. Yang said that "the unemployment rate and GDP have very little relationship with peoples' lived experience on the ground," making the first of many references to increases in rates of depression and suicide.
Vice President Joe Biden said, "The middle class is getting killed, and the working class has no way up because of that. ... We need to eliminate some of these god-awful tax cuts given to the very wealthy." Similarly, Mayor Pete Buttigieg pointed out that there is not one county in the country where someone working full time at minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment.
Both Warren and Tom Steyer made a pitch for a wealth tax. When asked how she responded to critics who say a wealth tax would stifle the economy and investment, Warren replied, "They're just wrong." Steyer referred in passing to "equilibrating the taxes on passive investment income." He didn't go into detail, so it wasn't clear if that could include closing the carried interest loophole that prevents capital gains taxes from being levied on the returns from successful investments in startups.
All of the candidates committed to a permanent legislative fix for so-called Dreamers, and those candidates who got a chance to answer the question said they supported a path to citizenship for 12 million undocumented people living in the U.S. Steyer and Sanders said they would declare a state of emergency immediately to deal with climate change.
As a last question, the candidates were told they could either give a gift to another candidate or ask forgiveness. Three of the men onstage offered the gift of their books. Both of the women asked forgiveness for being too forceful. And at the very end, when candidates were given a few minutes to make closing statements, Yang began with, "I know what you're thinking, America. How am I still on this stage with them?"