Friday, April 25, 2008


The campaign and the issues

The Democratic Primary Election Circus has shifted to the next ring, to Indiana, a state brimming with excitement for having a say in the election process for the first time since 1968. Pay attention to that: for the last 40 years, Indianans have had no influence on who the choices for president would be. If that’s not an indictment of the primary election process, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, as the rallies began, Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday that her campaign in Indiana is about “jobs, jobs, jobs, and jobs!” Because, of course, Indiana is one of the states that’s been hit quite hard by the “economic downturn” that’s cranked up the unemployment rate. So they care about jobs. They do.

The thing is, they also care about other things, and, indeed, there are plenty of other things to care about. In trying to say to each group of people what (she thinks) that group wants to hear, she’s missing out on the fact that it’s her whole package that will win (or lose) the election. Getting the cheap cheers at a rally by shouting “Jobs!” and cupping your hand around your ear to magnify the response will only get you so far.

So let’s look at just a few of the issues that are out there, and that we all care about, whether we live in New York or North Carolina, California, Nebraska... or Indiana.

  • The economy, including, but not limited to, jobs. This also includes taxes, and there are many complicated tax issues that will have to be addressed by the next president and the Congress. It includes globalization, something that’s around us and happening, and can’t be ignored. The president has a responsibility to promote responsible aspects of globalization, and to work against aspects that damage the countries interests and the country’s workers (here tying back into “jobs”).
  • Foreign policy. Part of this overlaps with the economy, in the area of foreign trade. The new president will have to work on fixing the issues that are making trade difficult — with the weakness of the dollar right now, we can’t afford to buy things from other countries, and our own exports are undervalued. There’s also the issue of whether China continues to rate “most favored nation” status (or, indeed, ever did), when it exploits its workers, oppresses its people, and often produces unsafe and shoddy goods. And, of course, our president will have the daunting task of rehabilitating our national image in the aftermath of the disastrous Bush regime.
  • The war. Of course, there’s an overlap here with both of the previous items, but the war merits consideration on its own. President 44 will have the task of doing what 43 should have done, but didn’t: setting up and implementing an exit plan. Troop withdrawal and the fallout from it, which will almost certainly include dealing with the collapse of Iraq into chaos before things settle down, will be difficult and controversial. And I’ll put another item here: it should be the next president’s responsibility to see that the war criminals of the previous administration — all of them — are held accountable for bringing us into an illegal and immoral war; for plunging another country into chaos; for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis; for implementing a process of indefinite incarceration, torture, and other abuse; and for spending countless billions of dollars in American money that should have been spend on stabilizing our economy (see above).
  • Homeland security. The president will need the strength of leadership to cut through the rhetoric of “the war on terror” and “the world has changed since 9/11”, and to sort out the reality from the theatre. She or he will have to set the agenda for replacing feel-good phony “security” with the real thing, even though it may make it seem like nothing’s being done. And that will be tough.
  • Infrastructure. This connects to homeland security and the economy, as the new president works on keeping necessary communication and transportation infrastructure strong. We have a failing airline industry and a mostly failed rail system. We have a fragmented and sometimes chaotic mobile telephone system that needs work. We have attempts at providing access to the Internet (see below) to rural areas and to low-income urban residents, and those attempts are collapsing.
  • Technology. Ah, yes, the Internet, and all the issues that come up around it. As noted above, there’s the question of Internet access. There are all the issues of security and privacy of electronic data, of what protection we have from government snooping, how things like electronic medical records are protected, how we’ll vote in the future. There’s the broad and controversial issue of digital media and digital rights management.

    In addition to dealing with those issues, President 44 must support and fund scientific discovery, especially in areas that have been neglected — or, worse, actively trashed — by the old regime, areas such as embryonic stem-cell research. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful legacy for a president, if it could be said that a major disease was cured on his or her watch?

    It would not surprise me if this president saw a need for a cabinet-level Department of Science and Technology. Do we want to be leaders or followers — or out of the race entirely? To be leaders, we have to revive our expertise in science and technology.

  • Education. “No Child Left Behind” needs to be fixed. Innovation needs to be re-infused into our education system. We have to bring education in the United States back up to the level it is in other technological countries (see the end of the item on Technology, above). And that arguably matters most in areas hit the hardest with changing job markets.
  • Health care. I’m sure I need say little about this, and this is the item with which Mrs Clinton has the most experience. We must make sure that every citizen has health care. Free. Complete. High quality. Fully covered. None of the candidates’ plans do this, and it’s not sufficient to make it available for purchase, not acceptable to have a dizzying choice of plans with differing coverage. Countries such as Sweden and Japan cover their population fully. We need to also, and we need to fix it now, in the next president’s first term.
  • The environment. Global climate change. Industrial pollution, carbon trading, the “Clear Skies Initiative”, the Kyoto Accord. It’s time to push car emission standards and fuel efficiency requirements, to make them tough and make them stick. We need to develop alternative energy sources and we need to clean up the mess we’ve made.

There’s my list. It doesn’t cover everything, of course, and you, as you’ve read this, have probably come up with several things that I didn’t mention and possibly haven’t thought about.

The candidates have statements about many of these issues. They’ve talked about them, and you can see them on their web sites. We’ll be judging them on these and making our decisions. I hope the winner will be the candidate who has the best package, not just the one who knows how to say “health care” at the nursing home and “jobs” to the unemployed factory workers.

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