By Reginald Johnson
Three huge issues have received almost no attention so far in this year's presidential election campaign: global warming, the corporate takeover of election financing and the future of Social Security.
I’m hoping the silence around these issues will change in this month’s debates, which begin Wednesday night in Denver.
The format for the first debate is that Jim Lehrer, of PBS, will ask questions of his choosing about domestic policy. It would be better if there were a team of journalists asking questions, but this is the format. All the other debates will have a similar format, except one which will see citizens ask questions in a town hall setting.
At tomorrow’s debate it will be up to Lehrer to ask questions of the greatest relevance. Let’s hope he does his job.
Despite what is being called a “planetary emergency” relating to global warming, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney haven’t touched the issue of climate change during the campaign. And apparently the elite Washington press corps hasn’t bothered to ask them what their approaches are to dealing with his massive problem, since we haven’t heard anything about it.
Lehrer needs to ask President Obama why he hasn’t shown more leadership in dealing with climate change during his first term. While Obama has done a few positive things, such as issuing improved fuel economy standards for cars and setting CO2 standards for cars and new power plants, he has not advocated the kind of sweeping program that’s really needed to slow global warming. He needs to go before the American people and lay out how serious this problem is, and propose a comprehensive plan to turn the nation to a green economy and turn away from fossil fuels. It’s also imperative that he show real leadership on the global level, something he hasn’t done so far.
Romney needs to be asked how he can be taken seriously as a presidential candidate when he has the audacity to question the reality of global warming. The GOP candidate claims that climate science is “unsettled,” despite the mountain of studies indicating otherwise. He’s come out against a carbon tax and would continue the Republican attack on the EPA for trying to regulate carbon emissions. Lehrer needs to question him on these wholly irresponsible positions.
Then there’s Social Security. The two main presidential candidates need to come clean about how they view this long-standing old-age benefit program, which sustains hundreds of millions of people. Up to this point, Obama has played his usual evasive game of ‘I support it, but….’ He set up the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission a couple of years ago that recommended a cut in Social Security cost of living adjustments. Obama said he agreed with the plan. But lately, during the election campaign, Vice President Joe Biden has gone around and stated emphatically that no cuts are planned for Social Security.
So what are we to think here? If re-elected, will Obama seek cuts in Social Security or not? The economist Dean Baker recently wrote a good piece on the conflicting signals coming from the administration on Social Security at www.commondreams.org/view/2012/09/18-2.
Romney, while he hasn’t said so explicitly, would likely back cuts to Social Security. He and his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, support the elimination of Medicare as we know it, turning it into a weakling “voucher” program, in order to reduce costs. If they think this way about Medicare, then you better believe Social Security is in their gunsights as well. Lehrer needs to probe Romney on this issue, especially in the wake of his notorious remark that he didn’t care about the 47 per cent of all Americans who collect some kind of government benefits.
Finally, there’s the issue of corporate influence in elections and the astronomical cost of running for office. Since the passage of the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, which opened the door to virtually unlimited corporate spending in election campaigns, there’s been an avalanche of business sector money being dumped into Super PACs and independent outside groups to attack or support different candidates. The ruling is giving corporations an inordinate amount of power in determining who will win elections.
There’s a drive on to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and reverse the legal position that corporations have the same free speech rights as people, or simply put, that corporations are people.
Romney already is on record as supporting Citizens United, saying “corporations are people.” Lehrer or someone at a later debate should ask him how a democracy can last when corporations take over the election process.
Obama, who has criticized the Citizens United ruling, should be asked whether he backs the proposed constitutional amendment, and if not, what he thinks should be done about the astronomical cost of elections and in particular the massive spending by corporations in elections.
I don’t know whether any of these questions will be asked, or to what extent. If no questions are asked about these three vital subjects, the whole debate process is a sham.
If you want to be sure you’ll hear debate on the issues discussed above and more, tune in Wednesday from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. to the show Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org) which is hosting a special debate for two third party candidates, Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. The two candidates have been shut out of the main debate by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Stein’s campaign also said an “Occupy the CPD” has sprung up and Stein, her running mate Cheri Honkala, supporters and activists will march on the CPD event at the University of Denver, prior to the DN broadcast.
The media have largely ignored Stein and Anderson’s campaigns. One exception has been the interview of Stein by Scott Harris of the Between the Lines radio show on Aug. 17. To hear the broadcast go to www.btlonline.org.