So now we are officially in an election year. After what seemed like unending political yap and round-the-clock punditry throughout 2011 we now draw closer to deciding our future in November. At last we can, and should, get serious about the real issues before us.
The economy is a major issue and will take its rightful place in the debates and various dialogues as we edge closer to voting day. But it is not the only issue we should be talking about. We need to take a closer look at wide-ranging critical issues as we decide our national future, and determine who will lead us as we navigate through difficult times ahead.
One of the biggest and most overlooked responsibilities of a president is appointments to the Supreme Court. The key question is who do you want interpreting the Constitution? In the face of a politicized Supreme Court such as we have never seen before, it's critical that we think about who might sit on the bench should Ruth Bader Ginsburg or any justice step down. The fact is, never in our history has the highest court in the country been so polarized or so predictable. Most cases can be assumed to go five-to-four these days, tilting to the right. (When did we ever imagine that corporations would be given the same status as individuals when it comes to political donations?)
Here are just a few examples of issues to be addressed by the Supremes in the 2011-12 term: death row mistakes, health care reform, same-sex couples' civil rights, immigration matters (state v. federal rights), and college affirmative action. Want another Clarence Thomas or Justice Scalia deciding? Or another Ginsburg?
Environmental issues should be looming larger than they are too. At a time when some scientists are warning that if we don't take care of the earth it's game over, why is so little attention paid to issues of biodiversity, pollution, climate change, carbon emissions and more by candidates? How many of them care that the Kyoto Protocol has just been re-visited, with little in the way of real progress made in the last twenty years and very little consensus about how to go forward?
What are we going to do about our failing school systems when more than 25 years ago alarm bells like this were already being sounded by the Department of Education: "The educational foundations of our society are being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our future as a Nation and a people." How will we compete in commerce, science and technological innovation?
It's well-known that American infrastructure is dangerously close to collapse. Folks like former Gov. Ed Rendell (Pa.) have done a good job of trying to get it into our heads that we need to care about that, and that repairing infrastructure links to job creation. Where is that topic in the debates to date? Columnist Bob Herbert of The New York Times wisely noted that the focus on deficit reduction and the right-wing refusal to raise taxes on the wealthiest among us may mean that the "absolutely essential modernizing of the American infrastructure may not take place," and "that would be worse than foolish. It would be tragic."
There is, of course, health care reform and immigration policy in the mix of major issues before us. And one of the most important considerations at a time of changing landscapes and leadership is foreign policy. Iraq is moving toward dangerous alignment with Iran, Afghanistan is still a mess, our relations with Pakistan have never been worse, many Arab nations are deeply unsettled and unsettling, and a new North Korea and Myanmar (Burma) are emerging. There are defense budgets to consider, nuclear and trade agreements to be negotiated, delicate diplomatic missions to be carried out.
So who do you want to see guiding all this -- someone like Ron Paul who claimed a while back that "if anybody dared touch us we could wipe [them] off the face of the earth within hours"? A Rick Perry who doesn't know what the voting age in America is, or a Michelle Bachmann whose sense of American history is so dismal she thought "the very founders that wrote [the Constitution] worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States"? An ethically challenged, non-family-values "family values" guy like Newt Gingrich? A "flip-flopping" Mitt Romney? Or a Barack Obama who for all his political faults, broken promises and too-quick compromises, demonstrates a level of intelligence, integrity and competence that we'd miss if he were gone?
In this election year, I desperately hope that we all vote with careful consideration - fully aware of, and deeply caring about - the extraordinary issues before us. So very much is at stake, we simply cannot afford to make a mistake.