The corporate media would have us believe, based on their coverage, that the most important issues in this presidential campaign are political tactics and the "character" of the four candidates. But what is at stake right now is not primarily the life stories of Barack Obama, John McCain, Joe Biden or Sarah Palin. An election is not a soap opera which deals with the trials and tribulations of the candidates and their family members. Election coverage must not descend into becoming a pre-game football show, one which deals only with "who's going to win" polling data and never-ending tactical discussions of "what the candidate must do" to win this or that state.
In a democracy, elections are not beauty pageants or reality shows, or soap operas for political junkies. Elections are the real business of democracy, and they should be about real things.
Without sounding too corny, what this election is about is the well-being of hundreds of millions of Americans and about what kind of country we will be leaving to our kids and grandchildren. And, at a time of global warming and severe environmental problems, this campaign is also about whether our planet survives in a condition that can sustain human life in the decades and centuries to come.
Given all that is at stake, as American citizens we must demand that the media not continue to trivialize our democratic process, dumb down coverage and, in the process, deflect attention away from the most important issues impacting our lives. This election must, first and foremost, be about the needs of the American people. As Vermont's senator and the longest-serving Independent in American congressional history, let me lay out what I believe some of those issues are:
In the United States today, the middle-class is shrinking, poverty is increasing and the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider. There are many economists who believe that, if we do not reverse course, for the first time in modern history our children will have a lower standard of living than their parents. Our country also has the dubious distinctions of having both the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world and more people in jail than any other country. Question: What specific ideas do the candidates have as to how we can grow the middle class and create good paying jobs, while protecting our children and the most vulnerable members of our society?
In the United States today, 46 million Americans have no health insurance, even more are underinsured, and we are the only major country on earth without universal coverage. Health care costs are soaring despite the fact that we already spend twice as much per person as any other country. Many employers, large and small, are now cutting back on the coverage they provide their employees making a tough economy even tougher for millions of workers. Question: Do the candidates believe that all Americans are entitled to health care as a right of citizenship? What are their plans for assuring that quality health care is delivered in a cost-effective manner?
Most of the leading scientists in the world believe that global warming, if not reversed, will lead to severe weather disturbances, flooding, drought, hunger, and mass human migration. These scientists also believe that global warming is a more threatening problem than previously perceived, and that bold action is needed to reverse greenhouse gas emissions. Question: Do the candidates believe that global warming is real and a man-made phenomenon? If so, what specific actions are they proposing to reverse global warming? On a related energy issue, what ideas do they have to make our country energy independent?
The United States is now in the sixth year of the war in Iraq, the Taliban is gaining military strength in Afghanistan, the political situation in Pakistan is becoming more unstable, Russia and Georgia have just completed a bloody war, and little progress has been made in easing tensions between Israel and her neighbors. Question: What are the principles that will guide the candidates' foreign policy? What specific steps will they take to combat international terrorism? How will they restore America's position in the international community and help create a more peaceful world?
These are just a few of the major issues facing our nation. I realize there are many more. It seems to me that no matter what our political views are, or what we may consider the most important issues to be, as a democratic society we must demand of the media and the candidates that this campaign focus on the great challenges facing our country and the world. Gossip, melodrama and political tactics just won't do.