July 25, 2004

Real Issues and Fake Issues

What you won't hear: 12 topics Democrats will duck at convention is the insufferable Ralph Nader's take on issues our dumbed down election campaign won't take up.

I'm no fan of Nader, the Apostle of the Nanny State, but he's got a point here. Although there is a fundamental difference between Bush, who knows we're in a war, and Kerry, who intones ponderous pieties about the corrupt United Nations, George and John will tack, bob, weave and triangulate their way out of a meaningful campaign, and most of the important issues will go by the boards.

Certainly, John's purple hearts and George's National Guard capers are not what's important now. Campaigns often have no relevance to what the elected President does afterword (Examples: Wilson's "He Kept Us Out of War" slogan, FDR's pledge to balance the budget), but is it beyond imagining that a campaign could be about things that really matter?

I've been thinking about this concern for some time. Ultimately one's approach may rest upon deep questions about the philosophy of history and about human nature. More mundanely, the big issues can be described in terms that Congress or the President could implement. Then there is an intermediate level of analysis -- the proper role of government, whether the state should/can promote social equality, to what extent this country should try change the world as opposed to keeping our own people safe and our powder dry.

It would be worthwhile to have discussions on all three levels, but perhaps we should start with the specific, and move on to the general. Tonight I think I'll just list, in no particular order of priority, some issues that ought to be discussed, but won't, at least not seriously.

Issue 1 -- Immigration. Should we limit immigration? Should we redirect immmigration to favor certain skill groups or countries of origin? Should we actually enforce our immigration laws, and if so, are we prepared for hundreds of thousands of deportations of people here illegally? If not, how do we regularize their status without inviting more illegal entrants?

Issue 2 -- "War" on Drugs. Should we declare victory and go home?
This war has enormous costs in money, loss of liberty, and incarceration of thousands? If not, and it's a war, can it be won?

Issue 3 -- Entitlements for the Old. As the average age of our people rises, and medicine extends lives, our Social Security, Medicare, and other programs become increasingly threatened with insolvency. Old people vote in higher proportions than the young, but for society, investment in the young has a bigger payoff than in the old. But will any politician touch this "third rail"?

Issue 4 -- Environmental Risks. The question of whether global warming is real and a result of human activity may be unresolved, but it's clear that major environmental problems, with major risks, abound. For example, the oceans are being fished out, our mining of water from the high plains west and long-term drought are threatening water shortages, and our inefficient use of energy poses political and environmental problems. How capable are we of understanding these forces, and how vigorously should government act to reduce unnecessary environmental risks.

Issue 5 -- Public Morals. There has been a general coarsening of public discourse and mores, in which commercial media play a major part. Fewer children are born into intact households. The mass employment of women, the emphasis of short term individual satisfaction as the basis for sexual and marital relations (of which the homosexual issue is one manifestation), the decline of fertility below replacement levels, are all interrelated. Can government affect these things at all, and if so, what should its goals be, and how are they to be achieved?

Issue 6 -- Multiculturalism. Some believe that we should encourage diversity in race, culture and language; others believe our history and our future depend upon a consensus around the English language, a public ethos predominantly derived from Protestant values and other forms of historical continuity, and failing this continuity we are in for cultural decay, internal strife, and even Balkanization. Who is right, and what can we do about it?

There are more issues to be added to the list. Enough for now. After listing them, I will begin to discuss them, one by one.

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