Finley: Hey, Democrats, what about that virus?

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Democrats on Tuesday night’s debate stage in South Carolina failed to see the opportunity presented by two days of plunging stock markets.

The Dow Jones sank nearly 8% on fears the fast-spreading coronavirus will infect the global economy. Economists are warning the virus may disrupt trade and global supply chains and trigger a recession.

If a significant downturn comes, it would undermine President Donald Trump’s greatest argument for reelection — the strength of the economy under his watch.

Democratic presidential candidates, from left, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Charleston, S.C.

But less than five minutes of the two-hour debate was devoted to the coronavirus, and none to its economic impact or the qualifications of the would-be presidents to lead the nation through an economic crisis, should it come.

Blame a clueless crew of moderators first. They never asked about the economic ramifications should the virus become a pandemic, and barely mentioned it at all. When former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg tried to bring up the subject in the first hour, CBS newswoman Gayle King cut him off and said they’d get to that subject later.

When they finally came back to the virus, the question centered on fighting the disease, not on dealing with its economic devastation. Tom Steyer said something about climate change. Amy Klobuchar vowed to hike education spending in hopes a student in South Carolina or Texas would grow up to develop a vaccine. Bernie Sanders blamed Trump for underfunding health agencies. And Joe Biden said he whupped the Ebola virus, and could dang sure could handle a coronavirus or two.

And then on to more pressing matters.

Despite the moderators’ negligence, the candidates should have recognized the benefits of showing up prepared to talk seriously about coronavirus and how it’s already affected the economy. 

Instead, they were content to fuss about marijuana legalization, obesity, gun control and a host of other issues that won’t be on the minds of voters if America is riding a recession into the November election.

If the virus does put an end to a decade-long economic expansion, the nation will be looking for a president they trust to make things right.

Yet they heard nothing Tuesday night about policies to protect jobs and investments, or what in the candidates’ backgrounds has prepared them to navigate an economic crash.

Even with Americans jittery about the sudden market drop, the debate rehashed the same tired subjects of the previous dozen or so face-offs, only louder.

The only brief deviation came when Bloomberg, for what I believe was the first time in these debates, mentioned the national debt, warning of the progressive agenda: “We can’t afford all this stuff.”

For that bit of reality, declare Bloomberg the winner of a debate that otherwise was oblivious to it.