US election still lacks clear policy vision

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential debate at Hofstra University. Rick T. Wilking / AP Photo
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the presidential debate at Hofstra University. Rick T. Wilking / AP Photo

The first United States presidential debate will be analysed in the coming days by pundits who will pore over fresh polls to determine how the debates will affect the final 40 days of the campaign. Expectations for the Republican candidate Donald Trump were so low that he might manage to increase his favourablity ratings. But beyond the popularity of the candidates, the first debate was significant for how little in the way of policy discussion emerged from both candidates.

When she wasn’t baiting Mr Trump with questions about his elusive tax returns and questionable business history, the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton spoke about her record in public office as a senator and secretary of state. For all of the talk about what she had accomplished in the past, however, Mrs Clinton said remarkably little about how she would tackle the major challenges waiting for the next American president.

Likewise, Mr Trump had little to offer when it comes to how he plans to handle the big issues facing the United States and the world. His plan to defeat ISIL remains a secret (the candidate claims he doesn’t want to alert the extremists of his elaborate plans to defeat them, or at least that is his excuse). His responses to questions about cybersecurity and even tax policy revealed an astonishing lack of understanding about these critical issues. Like Mrs Clinton, he was unable to properly articulate fine points about his ideas for policy changes if he was elected to office. This is worrying.

That an honest discussion about policy did not find a place in the first debate should not come as a surprise to anyone. This election has been all about popularity and the personal flaws of both candidates. Perhaps that is the reason why Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump are the most unpopular candidates ever to run for the White House.

Following the up-and-down nature of this election year, it will probably take until the vice presidential debates before the American people hear clear policy outlines from the two campaigns. With two presidential debates remaining we can only expect more of the same from both candidates. When Tim Kaine and Mike Pence meet on October 4, we hope that they will move beyond the popularity contest and dive deep into the issues and how to confront the challenges that face the United States and the world. Time is running out for honest discussion.

Published: September 27, 2016 04:00 AM

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