Pundits have wasted hours guessing which ten of the 17 White House contestants FOX would choose for its version of Donald Trump's Miss USA pageant, featuring Trump as the leading GOP crowd-pleaser for Mr. USA (and, in the eyes of some, for "mis-congeniality").
But there's been too little time spent discussing crucial issues that directly affect the lives of millions of American families.
It didn't happen at what Trump pilloried as Charles and David Koch's "puppet" theatre for five candidates they hand-picked to showcase, an event humorously panned by Jon Stewart. Their production came with "rules" for reporters not to report on the billionaires' buddies who were there for the untelevised bulk of the real show at that exclusive Koch retreat, as Lauren Windsor noted.
So what are the top five big ideas that probably won't be addressed this week by the FOX-ers chosen to pitch questions--Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace, and Bret Baier--or the guys chosen by FOX for this curated opportunity to break out of the pack with a one-line zinger like some Last Comic Standing competition: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, John Kasich, or Ben Carson?
The FOX debate, like the Koch TV production last weekend, will probably bypass crucial policies for non-billionaire Americans who actually need laws to secure livable wages, sick leave and life-saving/non-bankrupting health care, anti-racist police training, and public benefits like public schools, secure pensions like social security, and clean, publicly-financed elections, in addition to strong policies to protect our planet's climate, water, and air. Here's what you won't hear:
This growing movement is a reaction to the epidemic of police brutality against African Americans, which is being captured on cell phone cameras nearly every week now. Black activists shut down speeches by Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley at the Netroots Nation conference in July after Sandra Bland was found dead in police custody following an unjustified arrest after a traffic stop. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is demanding action to change policies fueling anti-black law enforcement violence.*
It is possible the issue could come up, but not in a way that affirms the concerns of so many African Americans and other Americans. Ben Carson, a doctor who is African American and running for the Republican nomination, recently called #BlackLivesMatter "silly," "divisive," and an example of "political correctness."
Some of the speakers may try to dodge these issues while expressing concern about the mass incarceration of blacks and the costs of prisons, concerns the Kochs have recently garnered good PR for embracing--despite two decades of Koch leadership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as it pushed laws that increased the number of people in prison, kept them in prison longer, and helped build the private for-profit prison industry. (Four of the guys running for the GOP nod are also ALEC alums.)
2. Raising the Minimum Wage
Although a debate watcher could probably get drunk playing catch-phrase bingo for references to "job creators," no one is likely to discuss the need to raise the federal minimum wage, which workers are clamoring for and succeeding in securing in many cities. Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which is $15,080 per year and that means many of the people working full-time at mininum wage jobs have to get public assistance to survive.
Waitresses and other tipped workers, like hotel maids, are guaranteed a sub-minimum wage of a little over two bucks an hour, even though almost everything you need (housing, transportation, food, and medicine) has become more expensive in the nearly 25 years that this base wage has been stalled at $2.13 an hour (or about $85 per week full-time or $4,430 per year).
The Koch-funded ALEC, which has embraced their free market fundamentalism, has called for the repeal of the minimum wage, because "freedom," freedom to pay workers less in Ohio where the debate is being held--which has had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country after de-regulation allowed Wall Street gambling to crash our economy in 2008 and which "free" trade pacts have devastated--and across the country.
One way raising the minimum wage could come up? The idea of having any minimum wage was recently called a "lame" idea by ALEC alum Scott Walker.
3. Climate Change (Real and Urgent)
Another issue that viewers are unlikely to see taken seriously is the reality of climate change and the need for real solutions, and fast. FOX, like ALEC, has peddled an array of so-called experts denying that a climate crisis is happening and is caused humans, despite the assessment of more than 97% of the world's scientists who are on record.
Most politicians are not scientists, and some even brag about their ignorance as a way to obstruct efforts to address climate change. Others straight up deny it, like Trump and one-time contender Sarah (drill-baby-drill) Palin, as Alaska's perma-frost is melting beneath her feet. Meanwhile, the changing climate and industrial agriculture in California have been depleting the state's aquifers, leading to stern warnings that it could run out of natural drinking water next year.
Instead of addressing the climate crisis, however, the debate is likely to showcase an array of criticisms of President Obama's new carbon rules by people cozy with oil and gas interests, along with attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), aiming to accomplish by de-regulation and under-funding what could also be had in a rush to eliminate federal government agencies, echoing Rick Perry in 2012 and Grover Norquist nearly all the time.
Will anyone raise the moral appeal made by Pope Francis to all Catholics and humankind to protect our planet and take action to address the devastating changes affecting temperatures, massive storms and wildfires, and the viability of our ecosystems? (Six of the 17 GOP candidates are Catholic.)
4. Earned Paid Sick Leave and Universal Health Care
As with increasing the minimum wage, the FOX moderators are unlikely to ask if anyone supports earned sick leave for workers. Millions of Americans have no earned paid sick leave from their employers and have to go to work when they are sick or take Family Medical Leave Act leave without pay if they or their parent, child, or spouse get a serious illness.
Similarly, even though unpaid medical bills are one of the biggest causes of personal bankruptcy in the U.S., FOX is not likely to raise any questions about how to address the fact that most people get seriously ill at some point in their lives and most Americans can't afford the cost of treatment to save their lives or the lives of their loved ones.
Instead of discussing ideas on how to protect Americans from dying due to lack of access to life-saving medical care, FOX is likely to push its ongoing agenda of attacking the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has been labeled "Obamacare."
So one thing that will likely not be up for discussion is the need for universal health care also known as "Medicare for All" or real-world alternatives to the ACA for kids and adults with pre-existing conditions and for hard-working Americans who can't afford private insurance.
5. Investing in Public Institutions and Public Programs
Another topic not likely to be raised by FOX is how public institutions that helped make our country strong have been decimated by austerity policies and efforts to privatize and re-direct tax funds to the private sector. It's not just the U.S. postal service that is in the bullseye.
The idea of universal public education is under attack under the guise of "freedom" or "choice." Instead of being up front about the long-term goal (and Koch/ALEC wish list) of de-funding public schools, there is likely to be uncritical praise for alternatives, despite hundreds of millions in fraud and waste in the charter schools industry.
We are also unlikely to see any questions about the importance in investing in public universities so generations of Americans are not crushed by mountains of student loan debt.
Similarly, public programs like Social Security are not likely to be raised as symbols of successful investment in a public benefit system to help people have a secure income base as they age out of the workforce or if they develop a disability. Instead, if Social Security is raised at all, it will likely be discussed as a program that needs to be "reformed" by changing its rules to allow risky private investments rather than by closing the loophole for all salary above approximately $110,000 a year and personal income from stocks.
Perhaps the most wide-reaching issue that will likely not be addressed--the reason why almost all of these other important issues are off the table--is the need to reverse the "Citizens United" decision that is rapidly moving American elections from a democracy to a "dollarocracy," in the words of John Nichols and Bob McChesney.
The need for a constitutional amendment and the need for public financing of elections are not going to be raised by FOX. Nor are they likely to ask about the need for disclosure of who is funding the groups that outspend the candidates and even the political parties on ads timed for the elections. These are the "dark money" operations that the Kochs and other billionaires have fueled and that, in turn, fuel huge profits for TV stations running those ads, like FOX.
The debate may well offer some surprises, but the attention-grabbing headlines are unlikely to involve concrete plans to address any of these critical issues.
The auditions on FOX could, however, help win the contestants the big prize of the oval office or consolation prizes worth millions: like a FOX pundit contract, a TLC-style reality TV show or shows, a big advance from a major publisher for pulp fiction and other stories attacking Democrats, progressives, socialists, atheists, Muslims, or all of the above. Or, if they land no punches on the winner of the GOP nomination, they could be chosen for VP.
Lisa Graves is the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy and previously served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, as Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and in other leadership posts before taking on CMD in mid-2009.
* The #BlackLivesMatter movement began in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman of murdering Trayvon Martin after the jury was instructed that Zimmerman had a right to "stand his ground" and kill Martin, even though Zimmerman instigated the confrontation and was the only one armed with a gun. (On Amy Goodman's Democracy Now, CMD/PRWatch was the first to document the change in jury instructions after erroneous news reports that the Stand Your Ground law played no role in the deliberations. CMD/PRWatch also was first to document the connection between that Florida law and ALEC, where corporations secretly vote on bills as equals with legislators and which bragged about pushing that bill to become law in numerous other states. CMD launched the award-winning ALECexposed.org investigation in 2011.)