This is the most important presidential and congressional election in my lifetime. The trouble is, none of the major candidates is talking about the big issues. Or is it just me? President Obama and wealthy Republican challenger Willard Milton "Mitt" Romney are outdoing each other to please the Israel lobby. There's a fierce debate over alleged ill-treatment of the super-wealthy. Romney promises to increase defense spending; Obama cut it a little, maybe. What will get the economy going again: tax cuts and other Bush redux policies, or, as Obama seems to be saying, merely not electing the other guy. The gaffe watch is on high, of course. Are these the big issues upon which the fate of the republic hangs? The political press complains that it's a boring election. No wonder. The real issues, the serious matters screaming for intelligent responses, are kept hidden away:
1. Climate change. Despite a consensus among the scientists that actually specialize in this field that climate change is real, human caused, getting worse faster than anticipated and will produce far greater cost and harm than good, we're doing next to nothing about it. Try to write about it, as I did last Sunday in the Seattle Times, and you'll be marked on reactionary Web sites to be deluged with emails, all with the same wording and alleged research that climate change is a hoax, or at best unproven. The goal is to intimidate and confuse. I don't give a damn. I'll write about it every chance I get. But our leaders won't tell us the truth, won't campaign on policies that would address it and at least prevent the worse outcome. No issue is more important.
2. The (real) economy. Mass unemployment, stagnant wages, historic inequality, slow or no growth, the end of meritocracy. These things should be unthinkable in America, but neither candidate and few members of Congress will really lay out the policies to address them. The Romney solution, tax cuts and more deregulation, is a big reason why we're in this mess. We need a major stimulus focused entirely on creating jobs, especially by building large-scale 21st century infrastructure (not "roads and bridges"). And with interest rates and Treasury yields so low, there's never been a better time to borrow. Then we need to raise taxes, go after tax shelters and tax gambling in the capital markets that doesn't create productive enterprises and good jobs. Forget beating up China over currency manipulation; we need to play China's game in trade.
4. Israel and Iran. I'm not really sure it matters whether Tehran gets a nuclear weapon or not. Nukes are notoriously worthless beyond deterrence. Even at his most ideologically rabid, Mao didn't use his nuclear weapons. Brezhnev actually asked Nixon for a free hand to take out China. Nixon refused to allow it, not least because the fallout would have come over here. So I'm unconvinced the mullahs, armed with an A-bomb, would risk seeing Tehran turned into pit barbecue. My deeper concern is that nobody running dares say that our national interests not only don't tightly and always allign with Israel, but are actually damaged by our uncritical support of Bibi's regime. My god, even Tom Friedman gets it. But fearing the powerful lobbying group AIPAC, politicians cower.
5. The We Society. Washington state, which is more purple than blue, is removing tax support from its state parks; they will have to operate "like a business." And this is on the left coast. The trouble is that many goods in a society don't operate like a business, and shouldn't. Thirty years of this drivel and endless tax cuts are destroying the commons it took more than a century to build. This is a moral issue and also one of national morale. The exceptional America whose fumes even allow for these beastly Randian/Darwinian fantasies of the right was built on share sacrifice, shared opportunity, and, yes, heavy taxes on the wealthy and heavy restrains and counterweights on the powerful. The oligarchy must be pushed back into limits and face the rule of law. Until candidates will join Elizabeth Warren in articulating this, we're doomed.
No need to get deeper in the weeds. Best to keep the agenda short. A hundred issues and sub-issued exist, along with many prescriptions. But these are the big ones. I'm not worried about the debt and the deficit. Make the economy grow and they will be addressed. Institutional legitimacy is a big problem. But the first step in fixing it is to tell the truth, fearlessly and without ceasing. And progressive forces must win both the White House and both houses of Congress. Trying to sneak in without focusing on these big five issues, as Obama is mostly doing, or trying to take us back to the 1880s, as Romney and his puppetmasters would have it, keeps us on the same path: National suicide.