Op-Ed: ‘This Debate Is an Opportunity’

On Thursday, the 17 Republican presidential candidates will convene in Cleveland, Ohio, for the first debate of the 2016 election cycle. They arrive in the midst of what can only be described as a circus show of personal attacks and insults, primarily levied by billionaire celebrity Donald Trump, who arrives with a strong lead in the polls.

The real issues have yet to be discussed. August 6 is an opportunity for an honest conversation. Voters deserve a real debate in which the American public can learn where the candidates stand on the real issues affecting the lives of millions of families struggling to make ends meet. In a city with the third-highest level of childhood poverty in the nation (according to KidsCount), Cleveland is the perfect setting for such a substantive debate.

Yet none of the GOP candidates have offered any concrete plans to help working families make ends meet. There’s no real talk about how to right an economy that is out of balance. There’s no discussion about how rich CEOs like leading contender Donald Trump have rigged the system at the expense of working Americans.

Even though most, if not all, of the GOP candidates are probably against an increase in the minimum wage, they should have to explain to Cleveland residents in the audience and the millions more watching at home exactly why they oppose raising wages for struggling families.

I want to hear their alternative proposals to ensure that those who work hard and play by the rules don’t have to live in poverty.

I want to hear the candidates explain their proposals for job creation—particularly in the most vulnerable communities in Cleveland. While the nation’s unemployment rate has dipped to 5.2 percent, Cleveland is still reeling from the recession, with an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent.

I want to hear their proposals for reinvesting in distressed communities—especially in communities of color like Cleveland that have experienced decades of disinvestment, blight, and poverty.  

Instead of the nasty and bigoted characterizations of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals,” I want to hear the candidates’ policy positions on immigration reform that just a few years ago had bipartisan support.

And finally, voters must hear where the GOP candidates stand on the issue of policing and criminal justice reform. Just a week after the indictment of a white police officer for the murder of an unarmed black man in Cincinnati, and months after the killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, each candidate should have to address in clear terms the question of whether or not “Black Lives Matter,” just like their Democratic counterparts. 

If Republican candidates are serious about putting American families first, they wouldn’t disparage them or make them feel less than because they’re struggling to get by. Just because these families are doing whatever they can to keep their heads above water doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect. Yes, personal responsibility plays a role, but so do policies that can make their lives a little better.

These GOP hopefuls talk a good game about putting American families first, but if they truly mean it, they would support jobs that pay a living wage for all; paid sick days and family leave for families who struggle to make ends meet; infrastructure investments that would put people to work and make our country secure; comprehensive immigration reform that fixes our broken system instead of vilifying those who are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their families; and equal dignity for all so that that women and people of color get paid the same amount for the same work as their white and male counterparts.

I have no illusion any of these real issues affecting the millions of struggling families in Cleveland and around the country will be addressed in the debate. But instead of a celebrity reality show for entertainment, this debate is an opportunity to begin a real conversation about what it takes to fill the most important job in America.

Op-Ed: ‘This Debate Is an Opportunity’