The Campaign to Feel Your Pain
The economy is issue No. 1, and rightly so, at the moment, but is talking about the economy and nothing else any way to select the president of the most powerful country in the world? Are Americans really willing to neglect other critical and life-and-death issues that face the world today? Climate change? War? Terrorism? Immigration reform?
The economy should be at the core of any campaign debate and is not necessarily as narrow a topic as you suggest. What is frustrating to me isn't so much that the issue of the economy looms large, but that the way it is discussed. There is far too much pandering to you the voter, sitting around the proverbial kitchen table (those of us who don't have a kitchen large enough for a table are the real neglected ones in this election), trying to make ends meet. This is politics in the Clintonian lip-biting-feel-your-pain mold. No one wants to end up like George Bush Sr., losing because he was perceived to be out of touch. So the entire discussion is about how each candidate understands you and wants to keep you in your home, regardless of whether you should have bought that home in the first place. Behold the spectacle of a presidential debate devoted to laying claim on "Joe the Plumber" and the spectacle of a Republican presidential candidate proposing to buy up distressed mortgages from individuals. Forget about the nanny state, this is like the white knight state.
There is much less talk, meanwhile, of how a severe economic downturn might impact other societal needs and priorities -- building a military capable of confronting multiple threats simultaneously, combating climate change, reforming our health care system to make sure millions of Americans are no longer uninsured, and, as you rightly highlight, fixing the nation's broken immigration laws. The campaigns define "the economy" as mostly micro -- about your needs and worries -- with little space for the macro. When pressed to identify programs or goals they might have to rethink in light of the worsening financial situation, Obama's idea of political courage was to throw foreign recipients of U.S. aid -- a non-voting constituency (presumably lacking kitchen tables!) -- under the bus, saying he might have to hold off on his previous pledge to expand Washington's embarrassingly modest foreign assistance programs.
All that said, I wonder about your underlying premise -- that if we weren't all obsessing about the immediate financial crisis and what's happening on the stock market, John McCain and Barack Obama could devote more time to discussing the tough, long-term challenges facing the nation. I'd expect that if the candidates weren't forced to focus on the timely economic news, they'd be wasting a lot more time on trivial matters like whether they've always worn flag pins or palled around with supposed terrorists.
McCain seems to be suffering a ferocious backlash for wanting to make an issue out of Obama's tenuous association with Bill Ayers. That is the good news. The bad news is that the backlash doesn't stem from a deep-seated desire by voters to grapple with global warming and healthcare reform; it stems from a desire to have the candidates pander to our individualized pain. If the Dow were at 15,000, I suspect we'd all be merrily debating the meaning of Obama's ties to Ayers.
Why has the Republican Party decided to throw so much mud around, and why doesn't the Party's head stop it?
The Republican Party is addicted to petty, nasty, dishonest campaigning because it has worked so well for its candidates since the days of Richard Nixon. I'm not sure which Party head you are referring to, but certainly President Bush and his operatives are big fans of baseless mud-slinging. The tragedy of this election is that John McCain, a victim to sleazy mud-slinging in the 2000 primary, truly was a maverick once in decrying such politics, and yet he has embraced sleazy tactics (and many of those same Bush operatives). He has proven the opposite of what he claims was his Daniel Webster-like approach to Iraq. McCain is acting as if he'd much rather be president than be right, or honorable.
Is Obama-Biden right to give Palin a free pass on her religious extremism? She was blessed by a preacher, flown in from Africa, to ward of black magic and evil spirits in her run for office. Her current church and, more importantly the one she grew up in, believe in a global war between the devil and god. If were Obama, I'd blow Palin out of the water by exposing her extreme religious views.
You can't be serious. You want Barack Obama to go after the views espoused by another candidate's church? How eager do you think he is to re-introduce the country to Jeremiah "god damn America" Wright? Believe me, Obama must be as eager to compare religious affiliations as he is eager to poke fun at McCain's middle name.
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