Debates have left major issues at election margins

Tuesday’s presidential debate was something of a relief. After a narrow and essentially uninformative first debate, the rematch let President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney talk about a wider array of topics. Questions included Libya, gender inequality in the work place and the chances of college graduates finding jobs.

But where are the questions on campaign finance, Bahrain or voter suppression? There’s something troubling about both debates so far: There are a number of topics that aren’t being discussed.

Take, for instance, climate change. Scientists agree it is happening, and on Wednesday, the world’s largest reinsurer, Munich Re Group, said that climate change contributed to North American national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. A recent poll from the Pew Research Center showed that only 42 percent of Romney supporters think there is evidence of climate change, compared to 88 percent of Obama. And few from both camps think that people have a hand in it.

So where are the questions on environmental policy? The environment affects not just the economy in terms of green jobs, but also national security and energy resources. Resource scarcity could trigger new conflicts, potentially endangering the United States and other countries across the world.

Or, how about government intrusion into technological issues? This year saw massive disapproval of Internet censorship laws such as the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Both candidates talk about innovation, particularly in the digital sector, so why not have them state on the record where they stand on net neutrality and the role of the government in the online world?

It’s not as if technology isn’t a major issue in this country. Government agencies continue to conduct surveillance of American citizens — and they expanded surveillance in 2008. There should be a serious debate on whether or not this is legal or if it violates citizens’ rights. The PATRIOT Act was passed in a wave of post-9/11 fear, but now this sort of secret surveillance is becoming not just policy, but part of the government norm.

Beyond the environment, there’s Citizens United, a current issue that relates directly to the election process itself. The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling to allow unlimited campaign contributions from corporations and unions has not been brought up, despite the rising amounts of money spent by super PACs for Obama and Romney.

It’s not as if the candidates lack opinions on the issue. During the primaries, Romney infamously said, “Corporations are people too, my friend,” throwing his support behind Citizens United.

On the other hand, Obama is against the ruling. In his Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread, he said that he supports a constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. That’s a major policy point, but is it being brought up by the candidates or the moderators? No.

Citizens United remains even more significant in this election because it’s being challenged across the country on the state level. In the last week, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Montana law that bans unlimited contributions in state and local races. And meanwhile, California’s Proposition 32 plans to limit the amount of contributions unions and corporations can give in state races. Citizens United has the Supreme Court’s backing for now, but states are doing what they can to oppose it.

And sadly, it’s unlikely these issues will ever be heard. Monday’s final debate centers on foreign policy: It will most likely focus on Libya, the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the tensions between Israel and Iran. Those are all important topics that deserve the candidates and America’s attention, but a narrow focus on these issues shuts out other topics worth discussing.

There are a lot of issues to discuss in this election, and many are hard to condense into simple answers. But that does not mean they should be ignored in favor of rehashing the same few questions on jobs and healthcare over and over. Debates are public platforms for candidates to discuss what matters to them for the entire country to hear. They should touch on much more than recycled talking points about the same topics.


Nicholas Slayton is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism and is the Daily Trojan’s Multimedia Editor. 

1 reply
  1. Russ Otter
    Russ Otter says:

    Congratulations on shaking the bushes about the large and small issues, substantially ignored. However as to the issues:
    1. Humans are in general short-sighted, good luck on hammering that home to them.
    2. Federalism and the Supreme Court: I think Federalism is much ado regarding the anachronistic. We need to unite, rather than play at our out-lived tribe mentalities… But changing that tradition is obviously problematic.
    3. Energy and Green energy: We need smart ubiquitous energy, as that would unite and change the world for the greater good, providing “Communication” on a level playing field. That would change the world, not like any, leader, politician or potentate ever will.
    4. Your thoughtful efforts, we simply need more of – to really change anything!

    Well thoughout Article. Engaging and important. All the best


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