The primaries came roaring through this week (I live in Ohio) so I got the same heavy dose of campaigning many of the rest of you already received. One of the strongest impressions it left is that this election season has many of the bad features of previous ones, only more so. As a result we have not had a discussion of many issues of substance.
First, a few kind words. One of the highlights was the start of the Democratic debate in Cleveland. It began with a question about health care plans and for the next sixteen minutes Clinton and Obama want back and forth over details. I didn't think the exchange had a clear winner but I thought it was great to see them criticizing details of their opponents' plans and defending their own. Afterwards I heard quite a bit of carping about how it went on too long but I disagreed completely - if anything it should have gone on longer. It is an issue of great importance to huge numbers of people. Shouldn't we be hearing about it all the time?
The rest of the run-up was largely hard to stomach. For example, our country is at war but we heard almost nothing about it. The right says the surge "worked". When it was announced over a year ago it was supposed to last until September, with a goal of providing additional security for political reconciliation. We are now six months past the deadline and the reconciliation has indisputably failed. Why weren't the Republicans pressed on it? Why hasn't anyone asked the following: If the surge worked why haven't troops been coming home since September? Is reconciliation still a policy goal for us? If so are there some new deadlines or benchmarks we haven't been told about? If not what is our policy now? How will we benefit, taking into account the following: The massive expense has helped explode our deficits. Now that we are in a recession the Federal Reserve is cutting interest rates to stimulate the economy, but low interest combined with fiscal profligacy has led to a flight from the dollar and a corresponding rise in prices. Wouldn't the money we are spending on the war be better used shoring up the economy? How much money are you willing to spend on it? Is there a dollar amount at which you consider it no longer in the national interest? Most importantly, is there a body count at which it isn't?
For the Democrats, what specifically do you plan to do on the economy? I was disgusted by their anti-NAFTA rhetoric because it was such an obvious and insincere pander. Neither candidate spoke about it until setting foot in our state, and both managed to avoid bashing it in Texas. Any attempt to change it would be met with corresponding requests from Canada and Mexico, and something tells me those wouldn't sound nearly as good to us. NAFTA is a complicated free trade agreement that can't just be grabbed and reshaped on the fly. Don't insult our intelligence: That ship has sailed and we know you haven't made it part of your candidacy. Give us a realistic plan for going forward.
I usually write about executive power, but I understand that being able to focus on it implies some very happy things for me. I haven't (so far) had to face a job loss in an increasingly turbulent job market; I haven't seen the value of my home crater or my payments skyrocket; I haven't faced a catastrophic medical expense; I haven't been sent off to war. Part of it is the result of being sensible and making smart decisions but part of it is pure, blind luck. There are people out there who are a lot more sensible and smarter than me who are much worse off. I understand elections are likely to focus on more tangible issues like the disappearing manufacturing base or the tens of millions of un- and under-insured. But even these issues have struggled to get focus. Voters have asked about them, but clearly not emphatically enough. Candidates have only mentioned them in passing on their way to scoring political points against their opponents. Reporters apparently would rather not invest a great deal of time investigating. Presumably talking to experts, analyzing, and returning to the candidates for follow-up is also not considered newsworthy in their organizations. It is probably safe to say the reporters themselves won't confront such an awful situation and therefore assume it is not worth reporting on. I am fine with my preferred issue getting short shrift in favor of other weighty issues, but seeing it overlooked in favor of double talk, personality profiling and endless speculation is very frustrating.