The Issues Presidential Contenders Aren't Talking About
So far, the singular focus on the economy is relegating other major issues to the shadows of the 2012 presidential campaign. And it's likely to stay that way.
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The focus on the economy, including jobs, consumer confidence and a host of other issues under one big umbrella, is, of course, justified. It's always a top issue, so you shouldn't expect otherwise after a deep recession.
But this time, with the economy so dominant among domestic issues, and with foreign policy pretty much off the table, little else is being talked about.
Here are half a dozen important issues that are getting the silent treatment on the campaign trail:
Poverty. The Census Bureau reports that nearly one of every two Americans is poor or low income. Swaths of the country that rarely get attention remain stuck in persistent poverty. Hammering on this issue is not considered a winning strategy in presidential campaigns. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards tried it in 2004, to little avail. The closest poverty will come to the issues spotlight this year will be in President Obama's focus on class warfare. But he'll try to keep the focus of his haves-vs.-have-nots fight on the middle class, not the poor.
Education. Specifically, this means the math and science gap between U.S. students and their better-trained counterparts in other parts of the industrialized world, especially Asia. A strong U.S. economy and a talented, modern labor force will need better math and science skills. Continuing to ignore this issue and the related question of how to fund education initiatives as government spending is slashed will have ramifications for years to come.
Climate change. Talking up what the U.S. should be doing to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and convincing other countries to take global warming seriously, may not be sound politically, especially with such a poisoned, partisan atmosphere in Congress. With neither the House nor the Senate likely to push such a divisive bill, there's little advantage for either party's presidential candidates to go out on a limb. But, of course, not talking about it won't make the issue go away.
Green economy. This was a central plank in Obama's 2008 platform. He pledged a huge federal investment in promoting a domestic and export market for U.S. green technology. Recession, legislative gridlock and partisanship have combined to stall the revolution. And without a big commitment from Uncle Sam, private investors hesitate to get involved. In a few global blinks of an eye, China has quickly stepped ahead of the U.S. in manufacturing wind power equipment and industrial-size solar cells. Both parties will pay lip service to battery technology, but that's a far cry from making green tech a big election theme.
Defense spending. Military procurement is one of the biggest and least monitored parts of the federal budget, amounting to about $120 billion a year. The defense industry is riddled with waste and abuse and costly weapons systems that seem to elude the ax even when lawmakers get tough about cutting spending and trying to slash the deficit. But no one wants to risk being seen as soft on defense, so sweeping reforms aren't likely to come from the candidates.
Identity theft. This will never be a top issue in a presidential race, but it is very much on the minds of consumers. Their interest will only grow with more reports about hackers gaining access to personal financial information, Social Security numbers and other personal data. A larger federal effort may be needed to push financial institutions and businesses to better protect individuals, but it's doubtful that effort will be pushed by the candidates.
Other issues, too, will be discussed on the periphery without ever making it to center stage of any political debate this year. It doesn't mean they're not important, just that the economy is sucking all of the oxygen out of the room.