Part 5—May look like plutocrat bias: In the second hour of last Wednesday's debate, an embarrassing moment occurred.
John Harwood asked a question about Candidate Rubio's tax plan.
Rubio misunderstood the question. Either that, or he chose to dissemble:
HARWOOD (10/28/15): Senator Rubio, 30 seconds to you.Oops. Harwood asked about the way Rubio's plan treats middle-income earners.
The Tax Foundation, which was alluded to earlier, scored your tax plan and concluded that you give nearly twice as much of a gain in after-tax income to the top one percent as to people in the middle of the income scale.
Since you're the champion of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, don't you have that backward?
RUBIO: No, that's— You're wrong. In fact, the largest after-tax gains is for the people at the lower end of the tax spectrum under my plan. And there's a bunch of things my tax plan does to help them...
In his response, Rubio inaccurately said that Harwood's statement was wrong. He then discussed the way his plan (allegedly) affects those with the lowest incomes.
To his credit, Harwood didn't give up. He restated his question, which compared treatment of the top one percent to treatment of those in the middle class. At this point, Candidate Rubio began to flounder and evade in a deeply embarrassing way:
HARWOOD: The Tax Foundation— Just to be clear, they said the—"But this is in percentage terms," Harwood interjected. No use!
Senator, the Tax Foundation said after-tax income for the top one percent under your plan would go up 27.9 percent. And people in the middle of the income spectrum, about 15 percent.
RUBIO: Yeah, but that— Because the math is, if you— Five percent of a million is a lot more than five percent of a thousand. So yeah—
HARWOOD: But this is in percentage terms.
RUBIO: —someone who makes more money, numerically, it's gonna be higher. But the greatest gains, percentage-wise, for people, are gonna be at the lower end of our plan...
Rubio continued to ignore the question Harwood had asked. Most embarrassingly, he threw gorilla dust all around through his conflation of dollar amounts with percentages. This allowed Rubio to discuss what was happening "numerically!"
It's hard to assume good faith on Rubio's part in that exchange. Assuming even minimal competence, it seems he simply looked for ways to avoid Harwood's question.
Candidate Rubio's non-answer answers were, at best, embarrassing. That said, he successfully avoided Hardwood's question.
Rubio's performance was an embarrassment. But in several ways, Harwood's performance was less than optimal too. This helps explain why Rubio was able to escape.
For unknown reasons, Harwood waited until late in a scattershot debate to raise this very basic question. Beyond that, note the horrible way he began the exchange:
"Senator Rubio, 30 seconds to you."
All through the evening, Harwood and his two to five fellow moderators kept doling their precious seconds in teaspoons as they hurried ahead to their next scattershot question. In this instance, this allowed a dissembling candidate to evade a sensible question.
Who should be blamed for the fact that Rubio escaped? Beyond that, why was he asked that question midway through the evening's second hour as part of a scattershot, grab-bag debate in which the moderators made little attempt to create a steely focus on basic budget questions?
To a cynic, that behavior by the moderators may look like something we'd describe as "plutocrat bias." That cynic might claim that Quintanilla, Harwood and Quick had no intention of zeroing in on the craziness of the budget plans those candidates have proposed.
Those budget proposals pander to the one percent in ways which seem utterly crazy. Indeed, Candidate Kasich had used that term one day before, assailing the "crazy" budget plans of Candidates Carson and Trump.
A cynic would say that those moderators deliberately avoided confronting The Crazy. That cynic would say that the moderators displayed a type of plutocrat bias—that they refused to examine the ludicrous ways those candidates are trying to serve the interests and the bottom lines of the one percent.
(More accurately, the interests and the bottom lines of the top one-tenth of the one percent.)
Were those moderators working from some form of plutocrat bias? If so, did they do that deliberately?
We can't answer the second question. We think the first question should be examined in detail, especially with the next Republican debate coming up on Tuesday.
That debate will be run by the Fox Business Channel. Our guess? They'll avoid confronting those strange budget plans, just like Harwood, Quick and Quintanilla before them.
To a cynic, last Wednesday's debate might look like a groaning example of plutocrat bias. It's a flat disgrace to see leading liberals praising the conduct of such an unfocused, scattershot effort.
The conduct of those moderators may look like plutocrat bias! We'll examine that pregnant theme all next week.