It has become a truth, all but universally acknowledged, that the final Democratic presidential debate, broadcast on the Disney-owned ABC network, was a journalistic disgrace and a political disaster. George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson alternated between the incomprehensibly trivial and the demonstrably false, giving the two-hour session the feel of a two-hour Republican infomercial, but with breaks for genuine corporate sponsors.
Stephanopoulos appeared to have allowed himself to be scripted by Sean Hannity, who earlier that day suggested the scurrilous line of inquiry that sought to tie Barack Obama to terrorist acts of the Weather Underground that took place when the candidate was 8 years old. It was hardly an improvement when, after almost an hour of smarmy and substanceless insinuation, the debate finally turned to real issues. Remarkably, the moderators–each of whom enjoys compensation in the millions–chose to berate both candidates for talking too tough to rich folk. “Can you make an absolute, read-my-lips pledge that there will be no tax increases of any kind for anyone earning under $200,000 a year?” Stephanopoulos demanded, this time sounding as if he was scripted by anti-tax evangelist Grover Norquist. Gibson, who had embarrassed himself at an earlier debate with the comically misinformed assertion that two University of New Hampshire faculty members could expect to enjoy an income of $200,000, also went to bat for Republican-style voodoo economics, insisting that the candidates pledge not to raise capital gains taxes. According to the most recent Census data, median income for an American family was $58,526. Just 5 percent of families enjoy annual incomes over $191,060. The average salary for a history professor, according to the American Historical Association, is $76,145. Remember, moreover, that this debate was occurring at a moment when, according to the Pew Research Center and the Gallup organization, “fewer Americans now than at any time in the past half century believe they’re moving forward in life.” It is, they say, the nation’s “most downbeat short-term assessment of personal progress in nearly half a century of polling.”
And no wonder. For working people, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since these data began to be collected more than sixty years ago. In 2005 the wealthiest 1 percent of the country earned 21.2 percent of all income, according to IRS data, while the bottom 50 percent of all Americans earned just 12.8 percent of all income, down from 13.4 percent a year earlier. That the two anchors felt it necessary to focus their questions for the candidates on lifting a tax that hits only the wealthiest 3 or 4 percent of Americans speaks volumes about the detachment of our plutocratic political class. It is perhaps no coincidence that the only support voiced for the wealthy anchors’ line of questioning has come from such noted defenders of working-class interests as David Brooks, John Fund, Dorothy Rabinowitz and Lawrence Kudlow.