We’ve seen three debates, so far, two for President, one for Veep, and no one expects the candidates to address every single issue the government could possibly face. Still, here are four issues that haven’t been raised, by anyone, pretty much at all. And here’s the thing: they’re really important issues, and yet I’m also not surprised they haven’t come up yet.
4. The Supreme Court. In the last debate, one issue that was raised and talked about at length was gas prices; how much we pay at the pump. That happens to be an issue Presidents can’t actually do much about. But constitutionally, one thing the President does do is nominate Supreme Court justices. In past campaigns, it’s been a major issue, and it was also a big issue in the Republican primaries. Mostly it had to do with abortion politics: who will nominate someone for the Court who would vote to overthrow Roe?
President Obama has filled two spots on the Court, with Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. Justice Ginsberg is three months older than my father–turns 80 in March, and is also a cancer survivor. It’s not at all unlikely that whoever wins this election will select her replacement. The Court is right now divided 4-4, with Anthony Kennedy the only ‘moderate’ (he’s basically a libertarian), and therefore the one guy who decides everything. If Ginsberg, a liberal, were to retire and be replaced by a conservative on the order of Justices Thomas or Scalia, we could well see Roe overturned. (I think it’s unlikely. I think Chief Justice Roberts, though conservative, would be reluctant to cast the vote overturning a forty year old decision on that incendiary an issue. My sense of the man is that he wants, above all, to preserve the image of the court as impartial arbiter–hence his fabled support for Obamacare.) I would think that President Obama could well raise that spectre–‘do you really want a Scalia to replace a Ginsburg’–to get out his base. But it hasn’t happened. There hasn’t even been much talk from either candidate about Citizen’s United v. FEC, the decision overturning campaign finance reform, which is the main reason we’re seeing so many lousy rotten political ads paid for, not by the candidates, but these outside groups.
FWIW, Scalia and Kennedy are both 77. Justice Breyer’s 75. They would be the next Justices to retire, obviously depending on health and inclination.
3. Gay Marriage. Remember back when gay marriage was going to be a major political issue going forward? Remember when it was going to be the hot button social issue of this campaign? Gone. The Democrats talked about it a lot in the convention, and the Republican debates mentioned it from time to time. And some kind of gay marriage referendum or initiative is on the ballot this year, in four states: Maine, Maryland, Minnesota (what’s up, Michigan?), and Washington. Gay marriage is ahead in all four states. And I think that’s what’s going on with this issue: nationally, opinions are shifting, slowly and inexorably, towards favoring marriage equality. It’s still the kind of issue that social conservatives care a lot about, but it’s looking more and more like an electoral loser. So in the national campaign–maybe it’s best to leave it alone. At least that seems to be the emerging consensus on the right.
2) Nuclear disarmament. And yes, I know this is one of those Cold War type issues that nobody cares about anymore. Who cares, doesn’t matter, let’s talk about terrorism instead. But the fact is, the Soviet Union is gone, but their warheads are still active, as are ours. And yes, we’d love for Iran to not have nuclear weapons. But the USA has enough warheads to kill every man, woman and child in the world. And the Cold War doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, in which the Russkies wouldn’t use theirs ’cause they knew if they did we’d use ours, a doctrine with the entirely appropriate acronym MAD, that doctrine’s no longer really operative anymore.
Conservatives love President Reagan, conveniently forgetting that nuclear reductions were the great passion of his life. But our nuclear arsenal is aging, degrading, deteriorating. Would getting rid of it entirely really be such a bad idea.
It’s a good issue for the President. He’s made nuclear disarmament a priority, and persuaded Mexico, for example, to get rid of its weapon’s grade uranium. I’ll be honest; I wish it were a higher priority for both parties. I think a nuclear-free world is both possible and plausible. But at the very least, given how deadly nukes are, we should at least be talking about getting rid of them.
1) Global Warming. Here’s my feeling: if there’s a plausible existential threat to human life on this planet, it probably ought to be talked about in a Presidential campaign. Just sayin’.
The problem here would seem to be the Tea Party. The scientific consensus, which is that global warming is really happening, is caused by humans, and is genuinely dangerous, is disputed by the Tea Party Right. Not sure why; probably has to do with a general disdain for pointy-headed environmentalists. The one Republican in the field to say he agreed with climatologists about, you know, their field of expertise, was Jon Huntsman. Could be why he’s not the Republican nominee for President.
I have no idea where Mitt Romney stands on this issue. But he can’t very well publicly disavow the cherished beliefs of the Republican base, not if he hopes to win. So he’s low-balling climate change, a strategy the President, whose record on this issue isn’t all that inspiring either, has gone along with.
So, four big issues it would really be nice to see the two mainstream Presidential candidates actually talk about. Probably not going to happen; they’re just not issues that get people in Ohio and Florida to vote. We’ll stay busy talking about Medicare Advantage instead.