The standout moment of Tuesday’s CNN town hall with the House minority leader was her exchange with New York University sophomore Trevor Hill, who asked about last year’s Harvard University polling showing 51 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 aren’t supportive of capitalism. After applauding her party’s shift left on social issues, he asked Pelosi if “there’s anywhere you feel the Democrats could move farther left to a more populist message” and “make a more stark contrast to right-wing economics.”
The heart of Hill’s question is reasonable. A loud-and-proud democratic socialist was just a serious contender in last year’s Democratic primary, and the polling on capitalism shows what it shows. So it’s perplexing why Pelosi would so quickly laugh this off, chuckling, “I have to say we’re capitalists. That’s just the way it is.”
On some level she may be talking past Hill and trying to avoid controversy. He explicitly said he wasn’t asking her to “make a radical statement about capitalism,” and she went on to make a broad acknowledgment that the system isn’t working well for many Americans. But this discussion—whether the Democrats will be an overtly social democratic party or somehow hone a more progressive capitalist vision—is the biggest question moving forward. If she had the Harvard polling handy, Pelosi could have noted that 59 percent of those in the same age group also rejected socialism—but she should have taken the question more seriously regardless.
The other party who should have taken the question more seriously is CNN. Hill told The Huffington Post Thursday that the network actually rejected his question when he submitted it ahead of time. They wanted him to ask Pelosi something more “personal,” so he agreed to throw a softball about whether the minority leader had ever been embarrassed on the campaign trail like Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep. He didn’t and CNN’s town hall was better for it.