The Four Important Issues of Election 2012
News cycles move at fiber optic speed in the modern era. Sustained attention on vital issues is not something we are particularly skilled at anymore. This is unfortunate. Our collective attention deficit disorder allows us to be distracted by secondary issues during election seasons and the 2012 Presidential race is no different. Abortion is this week’s talking point, but it’s a minor concern in the larger scheme of the health of the American Way of Life, which we expect our President to promote and protect. What should the modern man be thinking and talking about in the upcoming election? We’re glad you asked.
There are four major issues confronting our society, particularly our government, which will dominate our quality of life in the immediate and long term future. Rivaling positions on these issues are what should define the choice we confront on two very different candidates.
The least sexy of the key election issues, our long-term position on energy independence seems to be: we don’t have one. The central disagreement is the source of the energy. The Republican position favors greater investment in domestic oil and a slow development of alternatives, as in generationally slow. Democrats have pushed hard for development of oil alternatives, right now, starting yesterday. There is an economic-support influence in play; the Republican Party enjoys significant financial support from people and people corporations whose wealth is tied to the oil industry. The call for slow transition to alternatives makes some practical sense (many alternative energy sources are inefficient and expensive). However, the concerns our oil dependence is strengthening countries and groups with strong anti-American beliefs are completely valid. At the core, this is a conversation about the role of government in industry. We have made huge collective investments in infrastructure and propped up unprofitable industries in the past – transportation, anyone – and energy is as universal a concern as any we face. The health of our economy, national safety, sustainability, environmental conditions; the implications of our policy have enormous consequences.
By virtue of John McCain being from a border state, this was a high-profile issue in 2008, but much less so in 2012. Nothing has been resolved. We have a significant gap in positions between full amnesty and zero tolerance and very little meaningful conversation between the opposition. The issue has serious implications across the country, not just in border states. Providing a path to full citizenship to create a more robust economy, solidify our role as world leader in human rights, and honoring the legacy of our immigrant past is critical to our identity. Equally concerning, our inaction breeds conditions ideal for human trafficking, smuggling, abuse, all manner of human rights atrocities. We cannot do nothing and live with a clean conscience.
There is no more simple truth than the quality of our future depends on the quality of our education system. The recession has ravaged public education. College costs are escalating at criminal rates. The performance of our students in critical areas of math and science is frightening. Plotting a path provide quality education to the greatest number of Americans possible should be a central concern to everyone, especially our aspiring leaders. Pretending we can allow education to be a private concern is pure folly. The human capital we develop will have greater influence over our fate than any other investment we can make. Meaningful debate of education plans, with a goal to achieve the best possible outcome through compromise, is what should be defining these campaigns.
4. Economy – Taxes, Debt, and Healthcare
Economic policy has reemerged thanks to Paul Ryan’s inclusion on the Republican ticket. In the end, this issue more than any other will determine the outcome of the election (for what it’s worth, no President has been reelected with an unemployment rate this high), but that does not mean we will get a productive discussion in the process. The Affordable Health Care Act gets all the press as nearly every Republican candidate promises to repel it, but the bigger concern are the entitlement programs – Medicare and Social Security. These programs constitute over 40% of our budget and we have yet to solve growing costs and dwindling funding. Democrats favor tax increases and Republicans call for spending cuts to bring balance to our budget. The issue is much more complex than those overly simplified position statements but the common rhetoric ends with those simple philosophical starting points.
The health of our political system is contingent on our ability to confront and solve difficult problems. Recently, battles of uncompromising wills have hijacked national discussion and elections. Stand-offs produce ill-will and more misery. We must demand reasonable leaders committed to the best interests of our diverse population. We need a sustained dialogue, not here-today, gone-tomorrow news fads and sensationalism. Let’s start a better conversation.