Full coverage of the 2012 NACS Show.
Rumble in Vegas
Dean, Santorum face off on key c-store issues
Both Howard Dean and Rick Santorum have favorite c-store products. Dean, former governor of Vermont, enjoys York Peppermint Patties; Santorum, former Pennsylvania senator, goes for chocolate milk. Other than a fondness for chocolate, the onetime Democrat and Republican presidential candidates agree on very little—which made for a lively sparring match at the NACS Show.
Moderated by political analyst Michelle Bernard (pictured, left) of The Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy, Dean (center) and Santorum butted heads on issues directly affecting c-store retailers.
▶ The American Dream: “The American dream is about opportunity—the opportunity to get ahead,” said Dean, who expressed concern that it has gotten difficult for many Americans to realize this dream. “There are people at the bottom who no longer believe it’s possible to get ahead.”
While Santorum agreed that there’s a problem with people not being able to achieve the American dream, he believes the problem is cultural, not economic.
“It’s the breakdown of the American family,” said Santorum, referencing the high number of broken families suffering through poverty. “It’s not just about succeeding, but succeeding as a family.”
- Childhood Obesity: Bernard asked both to comment on childhood obesity, which is often blamed on retailers, especially when a c-store is the only option for groceries in impoverished areas.
“First thing you should say is you’re there; other businesses are not,” Santorum said to a wave of applause. “Be proud that you’re part of the solution.”
“It comes down to individual choices,” Dean said, calling for more consumer education on healthy eating habits. “If someone buys a pack of beer and french fries, that’s not the store-owner’s fault— unless the person is under 21!”
- The Upcoming Election: “Mitt’s got two problems: likability and changing positions,” said Dean. “Authenticity matters. Romney doesn’t care who he is; he just wants to be president.”
Once again, Santorum agreed with Dean on the principle: that Romney has a likability issue. But he countered that, while likable, Obama does not have the chops to actually lead the country.
“[Obama is] an average politician away from the teleprompter,” he said, claiming Obama was elected in ’08 on image, not substance.
Of course, the upcoming election is about much more than Obama and Romney. “If the Democrats control the Senate, health care won’t get repealed,” Santorum said, firing up the crowd. “If the Senate goes Republican, ‘Obamacare’ will be repealed. It’s a tax, not a mandate.”
“There’s going to be a redistribution of wealth,” said Dean. “The question is, do you want it to be upwards or downwards? Don’t forget, it was a Democrat who fought the big banks on swipe fees.”
- Health Care: In what was the most heated discussion of the session, Dean and Santorum sparred on whether or not President Obama’s health-care reform will work and whether it will help or hurt retailers.
“You should hope ‘Obamacare’ passes,” said Dean, pointing out that retailers could choose to pay the tax rather than provide their own health-care plan, allowing employees to get coverage through the government— meaning employees would not be looking for jobs that do provide insurance. “It’s morally incomprehensible to let people die or go bankrupt to pay for health care.”
Even if the current health-care reform remains in place, Santorum argued it would not solve the rate of the uninsured in the United States: “Not everyone is going to do what the government tells them to. We’re Americans.”
Dean countered: “Twenty-two percent of children in Texas don’t have insurance. That’s scandalous. Responsible adults can choose not to have insurance; it’s different with children. If the private sector can’t solve this problem, the government has a moral responsibility to step in.”
And while Santorum certainly didn’t agree with Dean’s beliefs, he also expressed displeasure with how his own party’s presidential candidate has handled problems such as health care.
“The campaigns have not been about big issues,” he said. “Neither party has laid out how to effectively deal with the problems we’re facing as Americans.”