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Column

Raise your hands if you want better debates

President Donald Trump’s emotions must have spiked big-time when he sneaked a peak at a news screen during the G-20 summit in Osaka – and discovered his new all-time favorite Reality TV moment.

Shockingly, Trump loved it even though he didn’t see his own face anywhere on the screen. What he saw was that the Democratic presidential hopefuls had just given him a gift – in the form of a freeze-frame photo that’s guaranteed to keep on giving. You’ll see it many times more in social media shares, video punditry and even old-fashioned TV campaign ads.

So, reaching for his smartphone, Trump tweeted his joy to the world:

“All Democrats just raised their hands for giving millions of illegal aliens unlimited health care. How about taking care of American Citizens first!? That’s the end of that race!”

Basically, Trump is right. Of course this isn’t actually the end of the race. But Trump knows the people who are his base. They are about one-third of U.S. voters – blue-collar workers who once voted Democratic but in 2016 they made him what he is today. And they’ll be furious to hear that, while they are paying for their family’s health care insurance, Democrats want illegal immigrants who broke our laws to get free health care.

Now, as 20-plus Democratic candidates – and another set of TV-journalist questioners – are prepping for a second round of debates later this month, it’s time for somebody to try to help them figure out how to sharpen their respective crafts. Here goes:

First, some thoughts for the interrogators (they’ll be from CNN this time): As MSNBC’s questioners showed us last month, we get nowhere when questioners ask tabloidy, made-for-TV photo-op questions that ask presidential candidates to perform like obedient preschoolers. As in: Please raise your hands, how many of you ...

This becomes especially obvious when the questioner’s topic is complex and requires thoughtful consideration, not just campaign debate combat. Such as: How can we improve and safeguard our health care insurance?

Questioners need to ask questions that will permit each candidate to not just raise a hand, but raise a new solution, or discuss the plus-and-minus trade-offs of old alternatives. In the difficult topic of health care treatment for undocumented immigrants, instead of that glib, tabloidy show-of-hands approach, why not ask candidates: What happens now when an uninsured undocumented (and thus illegal) immigrant in the United States becomes sick – say, has a heart attack? And what should our future policy be?

Undocumented immigrants currently cannot obtain coverage under Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act), Medicare or Medicaid (in most states). So when they get sick, they go to hospital emergency rooms where they must receive treatment – because doctors cannot tell them to go out, sit on the curb and die. So we all end up paying the bill – and that’s by far the most expensive form of treatment. (Pew Research Center estimates that of 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in America, as many as 6 million lack health insurance. Ka-ching!)

Hopefully, one presidential hopeful may know how things are really done now: Six states and Washington, D.C., allow Medicaid to cover illegal immigrants under age 18 (California just raised the age to 25) and 16 states cover low-income pregnant women, regardless of their immigration status.

While Trump has called for “American Citizens first!” it is uncertain whether he knows that under the Trump presidency, there are 1,400 federally funded health care centers in 11,000 urban, suburban and rural communities in all 50 states where people can get treatment, even if they are undocumented and destitute.

Hmmm, I also wonder if the leftiest and most devout democratic socialists know that Scandinavia’s socialist countries maintain tough restrictions on treating undocumented immigrants.

And while we are looking at all the failings we see on our TV screens, let me add one more. The only reason I know all this is that I just read most of it in a terrifically well-researched piece by The New York Times’ Jan Hoffman. But you probably didn’t see it and even Times regulars probably missed it – because the Times editors buried Hoffman’s piece on Page A15 on July 4. So our 24/7 cable news talkers didn’t have time for it and we were all busy doing nothing on our holiday. Ka-boom!

Maybe we’ll all learn together when the Dems next debate at the end of this month. Let me see a show of hands: How many of you readers would like to hear your presidential hopefuls really discuss what they will do to safeguard your health care?

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers can send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com.

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