Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Debates That Didn't Happen

There are folks out there whom I respect that are saying that these presidential debates are just a gaudy sideshow to the campaign, and are aimed not at the educated followers of politics, but to the ignorant who will hang on to images and perceptions rather than hard policies.  This may very well be true, but I do think that the debates are an important gauge of our current political discourse, and the issues that are on the table, and those that aren't.  After four debates, the following issues went undebated, despite their importance:

The Two-State Solution and Israeli Settlements in Palestine
Both candidates spent so much time bowing and scraping before the Israel lobby last night that they didn't even bother to talk about the roadmap to peace.  

Drug Laws
A substantial portion of Americans would like to see our drug laws liberalized, so many that the president might lose Colorado due to stalwarts on this issue voting Libertarian.  Our three decade war on drugs has helped build up the prison-industrial complex and has disproportionately curtailed the life chances of young men of color.  Too bad none of the moderators consider this important.

Marriage Equality
The Defense of Marriage Act was just struck down by a court, yet it just didn't come up, despite being in the headlines.  Apparently the most disputed civil rights issue of the past decade didn't merit comment.  

The forty hour work week is becoming a thing of the past as labor is being casualized in a vicious race to the bottom.  Several states have attempted to curtail labor rights, which led to massive protests and the recall election of Scott Walker.  We had plenty of talk of unemployment, but none about the increasingly cruddy conditions of the majority who have jobs.

Economic Inequality
On a related note, I seem to remember at this time last year massive public protests in cities all across the country decrying the growing gap between the rich and the poor.  This is a real and worsening problem in America, and one that has a much bigger effect on regular people's lives than the budget deficit, yet we heard nothing about it.

Global Climate Change
Climate change is a reality, and its effects have been manifest in the wretched droughts this year.  It is a problem that threatens the earth's very well-being, yet apparently the two men vying to be the leader of the free world did not need to clarify their positions on it.

Here's a bunch more I could add: Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition and "enhanced interrogation," the PATRIOT Act, regulations on for-profit higher education, agricultural policy/farm subsidies, and nuclear arms reduction.

What ought we make of presidential debates that don't actually debate many of the most important issues facing the nation or the planet?  In the first place, I think this is the consequence of having Beltway journalists moderate the debates, since they frame everything in whatever conventional wisdom has taken hold of Washington that week.  They are so wedded to the headlines that they are unable to ask about broader issues of wider import.  This is a general problem with our news media, which favors sensation over analysis and reporting "gaffes" over reporting policy.  Until we get some of these issues on the table, they will continue to get worse.

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