Press candidates to talk about what really matters

The recent debate between the Republican contenders campaigning for election as president illustrates the disconnect that can occur between what concerns voters and what candidates to elected offices spend most of their time talking about.

Prior to the GOP debate, Gallup released a list of questions Americans would ask the presidential hopefuls if they had that opportunity. The questions were based on what polling indicates people consider the most important problems facing the country. Not surprisingly, most of the questions were related to the economy and the general welfare of  people. How do you propose to fix the economy? What do you propose to do about jobs?

Questions about immigration, race relations, education and health care also made the list, although not a single question about foreign policy issues did.

Given that small businesses account for half of private gross domestic product, it might have appropriate to ask the candidates point blank what they would do to help small businesses if elected.

And here’s an important distinction: Government can’t guarantee the success of any enterprise, only the opportunity to succeed. Any time government meddles in business enterprises either through subsidies or laws, it ends up distorting the market or causing unintended consequences. What government often can do, however, is get out of the way of businesses in their pursuit of success.

As it turned out, the debate featured one question about helping small businesses. But it was posed to only a single candidate — U.S. Sen. Mark Rubio. Rubio’s answer covered tax and regulatory reform, increased access to capital, the importance of education and the repeal of  health care reforms. No doubt the other candidates would have loved to at least respond. They never got that chance.

As the latest presidential campaign shifts into higher and higher gears, it’s essential that candidates are pressed not only about their views on the economy and jobs, but the implications of their proposed policies on the small businesses that collectively play such a big role. The same hold trues for candidates running for state and local offices. It’s equally important to press candidates to get specific. It’s far too easy to promise in sweeping and grandiose terms to address problems, but far more difficult to actually explain how.

Given what really matters to voters, candidates should spend more time talking about the economy and small businesses. One has everything to do with the other.