The recent debates have covered a number of issues: the economy, Libya, Iran, abortion, unspecific tax plans, health care, and Sesame Street. But let’s not pretend that the topics the candidates have discussed are in any way exhaustive. There are plenty of issues that have — perhaps purposefully — gone ignored, and here are 10 of the more significant ones:
1. Climate Change
While there’s been a lot of discussion about energy policy — particularly jobs related to this field, dependency on foreign oil, and the cost efficiency of certain energy sources. But no one seems willing to mention the most crucial aspect: climate change. Our energy practices are contributing monumentally to global warming, and to not prioritize this as the main way to inform our energy decisions is preposterous. At this point, being a climate change ignorer is nearly as irresponsible as a climate change denier.
2. Campaign Money
It should be no secret that these two men have the privilege of participating in the debate due in large part to massive campaign donations they have amassed. This fact raises a lot of questions — unfortunately none of which will be addressed at the debates. How great would it be if they were asked who their major campaign donors are, what responsibilities they feel to these donors, their feelings on the emergence of Super PACs and whether they think that the political system could benefit from campaign finance reform.
At the end of 2011, President Obama signed the NDAA, which authorized the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial. Though courts have found this “law” unconstitutional, the Obama administration continues to appeal the decisions. What I wouldn’t give to hear a debate moderator ask why maintaining this power is so important to Obama and how Romney feels about indefinite detention.
4. The Prison Industrial Complex
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. That, as well as the alarming racial disparity amongst the prison population and lack of support provided to inmates returning to society, should be discussed. As private companies who own the prisons profit greatly off harsh sentences for non-violent offenders, and other companies make a killing off paying inmates almost non-existent wages for prison labor, it’s time our nation’s leaders address this madness.
5. The Cost of Higher Education
The candidates will indicate that they want Americans to have the chance to go to college, but they do not directly address one of the greatest obstacles: outrageous tuition costs and the resulting insurmountable student debt. If education is a key to growing our economy, what are the plans for making education affordable? How do we ease the financial burden on the already college-educated who are now unable to find jobs?
6. Internet Policy
The internet community has been so committed to taking on new internet laws — like PIPA, SOPA, and more recently CISPA — that they successfully convinced Congress to vote against SOPA despite major lobbying from private interests. With such a notable public outcry, it seems appropriate for the candidates to share their views on internet regulation.
7. The Water Crisis
Good luck getting a politician to acknowledge a problem that’s 10 years down the road, but researchers are projecting an impending drinking water shortage all over the world, including America. How will we deal with something so crucial to human survival and mitigate the problem before it becomes a full-blown crisis? It’s probably also too much to expect anyone to bring up fracking, which is contaminating the existing water supply and leaving some American citizens without safe drinking water, but a question on that would be great, too.
8. The First Amendment
American politicians are quick to criticize countries abroad for impeding democracy and the right to protest, yet when similar abuses happen at home, you can count on them to keep quiet. For the past year, Occupy Wall Street participants have been targeted, harassed, jailed and otherwise vilified for exercising their supposedly protected right to voice dissent. A pointed question about the right to assemble would be particularly apt right about now, rather than permitting the candidates to continue to remain mum.
9. The Police
On that note, what about the emerging police state that acts to suppress these protesters? Or wages violence on the people they are tasked to protect? Or carries out racist stop-and-frisk policies? Let’s ask the candidates how they feel police should be held accountable and what role the police should play in our society.
Perhaps drones will come up in the final foreign policy debate, but I would expect the subject to be glossed over at best. The United States’ latest policy of secretly targeting “militants” abroad with missiles that primarily winds up killing children and civilians lacks accountability and oversight. Hopefully there is at least one question on Monday night about whether drone warfare is necessary, let alone conscionable.
How do so many important topics go unmentioned? And worse still, if the candidates don’t find these issues worth debating, how can we expect improvements from them during their terms in office?
With the current debate structure, presidential candidates need not worry about having to address any of these weighty issues they’d rather not have to discuss. Ever since the Republican and Democrat parties took the reigns of the national debate from the non-partisan organization the League of Women Voters in the ‘80s, they call the shots in how their candidates are presented and which subjects on which they will state their positions.
That’s also a primary reason why third party candidates — like the Green Party’s Jill Stein who was actually arrested this past week for daring to show up to the debates — are so easily shut out of the conversation. Including some legitimately differing viewpoints in the debate would make avoiding some of these topics difficult, and the two major parties are not interested in legitimately open discourse.
As we watch the debates, it’s important to not only consider the topics that are being discussed, but also the issues that are being left out… and then ask ourselves why.
Photo Credit: Screencap from the New York Times