Lack of Public Policy Debate In Presidential Race Irks CNN's Dobbs

NREI's Matt Valley brings us an account of yesterday's keynote speech from Lou Dobbs at ICSC's RECon.

A self-described independent populist, CNN business anchor Lou Dobbs has a strong message for the top three U.S. presidential candidates: Stop wallowing in partisan prattle and instead address major public policy issues that include a failing public education system, a credit crunch that is the worst in nearly 30 years, and $53 trillion in unfunded liabilities for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Unless Americans press presidential Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain for answers, some of these burning issues will be neglected, Dobbs fears. “Have you heard any one of the three candidates articulate for himself or herself their philosophy on the role of the federal government, whether it should be limited or expanded, whether there should be regulation of the marketplace -- in particular the financial marketplace -- even as we're facing a credit crisis that has swamped both investment banking and commercial banking in this country?”

Dobbs' economic and political commentary came during a speech delivered to several hundred attendees of ICSC's ReCON show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Now in its 52nd year, the annual convention that runs through Wednesday is expected to draw close to 50,000 attendees.

The blunt-talking Dobbs told the audience that it's time for America to “get real” and confront its shortcomings in a world where it's no longer a super power. “Do Americans seriously not understand that they are the largest debtor nation in the world? Do the people of the U.S. not understand that one must have a sustainable environment and policies that promote the same? Do people not understand that there is a tremendous competition now building for raw commodities and products and that the U.S. -- which has about just under 5 percent of the world's population -- is consuming about 28 percent of the resources of the world?”

Among some of the more pressing public policy issues in Dobbs' view:

  • There is a need for $1.7 trillion in public investment in infrastructure that includes everything from mass transit to bridges to airports to power grids. “No one is talking about where we're going to get the $1.7 trillion. No one is talking about even the fact that we need it,” says Dobbs.
  • Public education, historically the great equalizer as Dobbs likes to call it, is not working. Today, half of all black and Hispanic students in the United States drop out of high school. “It is not working because we have a fascination with the remote and less proximate -- and sometimes more exciting -- spectacle of national politics. And yet we don't seize control of our own communities and our own lives and assure the quality of life for our fellow citizens.”
  • The U.S. has had 32 consecutive years of trade deficits, and now the trade deficit stands at $6.5 trillion. That could have long-term implications for the U.S. economy.
  • Some 2 million Americans are facing the prospect of home foreclosures stemming from a combination of the subprime mortgage debacle and the weakening economy.
  • Based on his travels around the country, Dobbs says that there truly isn't much enthusiasm for any of the three leading presidential candidates. “I'm an independent. I haven't got a dog in this hunt. I don't have a favorite candidate. As a matter of fact, I'm begging for candidates to step forward.”

    Dobbs is convinced that the candidate who wins the presidency in November ultimately will have to be perceived as a moderate. That means Obama will have to convince his party that he's not way left of center while McCain will have to convince Republicans that being a centrist won't ruin the party. “This nation lives in the center, it governs best from the center,” says Dobbs. “Anyone who believes that being a left-wing liberal Democrat or a right-wing conservative Republican is the destiny of the United States, you are so sadly mistaken.”

    When asked by an audience member if he is considering running for president of the United States, Dobbs was non-committal. Dobbs did acknowledge that he's been asked by three separate groups to run for president and that any decision would come by June 30.

    -- Matt Valley

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