Here is a partial list of the issues on which, in my view, the candidates have failed to offer constructive proposals:
1. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. It is offensive that both parties (and the media) now routinely refer to these programs as “entitlements,” and that they employ the euphemism “entitlement reform” to mask their intentions to reduce benefits. Late in the campaign, both parties tried to present themselves as the protectors of these programs, which was harder for the Republicans after they chose budget hawk Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate. And yet, it was Obama and his party that proudly cut the payroll tax, the only tax that supports the Social Security fund.
2. Gun control. Stricter regulation, particularly of handguns, is a critical need that the major parties have agreed not to debate, much less address with new legislation. The carnage continues throughout the United States, which also continues to manufacture huge quantities of handguns for sale here and abroad.
3. The war on drugs. It was declared by Richard Nixon forty years ago, and it has been lost. I’m not advocating legalization, but certainly new strategies for dealing with both drug abuse and drug crime are sorely needed. Plenty of ideas are out there in the universities, think tanks and government agencies, but neither major party seems willing to discuss them.
4. Capital punishment. The death penalty has been proven ineffective, and state after state has virtually abandoned it, yet both major parties continue to condone the practice. I have spoken to Democrats who were not even aware that their president supports capital punishment.
5. Guantanamo Bay. This shameful prison camp is still open, still detaining people indefinitely without charges, still staging military tribunals rather than trials in courts of law. When was the last time you heard this seriously debated?
6. The Federal Reserve. Officials at the central bank have indicated they will keep interest rates near zero until the end of 2015. So, the banks can continue to borrow money from the government (i.e. taxpayers) virtually interest-free, they can then loan it out at a profit, and they can continue to refuse to pay reasonable interest to customers for savings accounts or CDs. This is apparently fine with both candidates.
7. Taxes. This is one of the few big issues Obama and Romney have debated, although there has been precious little clarity from either. Romney is opposed to any new taxes and vows to cut existing taxes for everybody. Obama says he will raise taxes for the wealthy and cut them for everybody else. Neither candidate has described a comprehensive tax reform plan that would result in a more fair system. The Simpson-Bowles panel came up with a proposal, but neither party has supported its efforts. The Republican argument that the federal government does not need to raise more revenue is ridiculous. The Democratic Party’s belief that raising taxes for 1 percent of the population is somehow going to alleviate the nation’s fiscal challenges is equally absurd.
8. Climate change. Obama talked a lot about global warming and the need to develop renewable energy sources four years ago, but this year he has chosen to advocate more drilling for oil and natural gas. Climate change was essentially missing from the campaign until Hurricane Sandy brought it back into our public discourse. The Republicans are still in denial about this issue. The Democrats have given us little reason to believe the environment will be a priority in a second Obama administration, but if that changes, we’ll have Sandy to thank.