I think we can see where this is going. The 2008 presidential election is going to be all about Iraq (with maybe Iran and Afganistan thrown in), to the exclusion of almost everything else.
Of course, a lot can happen between now and then, but chances are the same vitally important domestic issues are going to be ignored yet again.
That's probably because they are difficult, prickly head-scratchers that don't lend themselves to TV soundbites. They may, however, lend themselves to solutions, if we'd just talk about it.
It seems to me that we often squander the true value of our elections. Besides deciding (in theory, at least) who is most fit for an office, they also open the floor for debate on the pressing questions of the day. Locally, it might be whether this section of a county should have sewer service or that section should be re-zoned. Nationally, the stakes are much higher.
All too often, though, debate is not what happens. The candidates either attack each other personally, or drone on about how they'll never raise your taxes. The things that really matter are blown away by the hurricane of hot air.
So what does really matter here in America, in 2007? That's a subjective question, and your list may well differ from mine. But here's a starting point:
1. Health care. Sure, the candidates will talk about health care, but most likely in an abstract, pie-in-the-sky way that doesn't take in the realities "on the ground," as the popular saying goes.
Here's what I always wonder about: Why should it be the responsibility of the your employer to take care of your health care?
Think about it. Doing the same job, I would get one salary from the Amherst New Era Progress, another from the News & Advance, another from the New York Times. Those salaries reflect the resources each newspaper has available. In terms of my medical coverage, however, it would cost all of them essentially the same.
Put simply, this concept that business should shoulder the burden of health care is killing small companies.
So if business don't do it, who should? Maybe a coalition of some sort between government and insurance companies, throwing out a net that ultimately covers everyone. But any decision that's made has to involve doctors, hospitals and pharmacuetical companies. Instead of simply lobbying the government, these groups need to interact with it.
Of course, any improvements in the health care mess will mean ....
2. Taxes. We have the war in Iraq. We have a crisis in health care. The infrastructure is sagging (the Minnesota bridge collapse, case in point). We have an endangered Social Security system.
If you're a couple sitting at the kitchen table with your bills strewn about you, and you see red ink seeping onto the tablecloth, you're going to say: "Hey, we've got to come up with some more money from somewhere." Or, you might say: "We really need to cut down on our spending."
Americans have been convinced that we don't need to do either. Just put it on the national credit card, and we'll deal with it later. We accept financial strategies from our governments that would appall us personally.
We don't resist taxes because we're stingy -- Americans are among the most generous people on earth. The problem is, no one ever seems to equate taxes to services in any sort of direct way. Moreover, those of us in the lower and middle class brackets see the more fortunate gleefully driving Brinks trucks through gaping loopholes in the tax code on their way to the bank.
I think if a tax system were truly fair, Americans would buy into it (if not necessarily with a smile).
3. Social Security. A lot of us have a system in which our checking and savings accounts are joined at the hip. If you overdraw your checking acocunt, money is automatically drawn from savings to cover the deficit. The federal government has that, too -- the checking account is called the budget, the fallback is Social Security. They just don't tell you about it.
4. Prison/drug law reform. Again, politicians have failed us miserablly here. Besides "I'll never raise your taxes," the most popular mantra is "I'm going to be tough on crime." Common sense goes out the window. The fact is, putting someone in jail for making a poor lifestyle decision (i.e., possesing drugs) makes about as much sense as busting an overweight person in the McDonald's line, or hauling a workaholic out of his cubicle.
Sure, certain drugs are bad for you, but filling our prisons with young people who then become a drain on society doesn't seem a very good way to deal with thhat.
This is, like most of the problems we ignore, very complicated. Why not make the emphasis on getting people off drugs, thereby drying up the demand? Otherwise, we have the problem of convincing a 17-year-old with no future that even though he's making $1,500 a week, there are better alternatives. Which leads to ...
5. Jobs. Our society used to offer "meat and potatoes" employment, the kind you could get with a high school diploma and make a decent living from. Most of them were in manufacturing of some sort, and you could make a good living from them. Here in Lynchburg, you could work at the Lynchburg foundry, the shoe factory, the textile mill. Now, the choices seem to be hi-tech or fast food. Government can't solve this problem, but it's certainly something that needs to be addressed.
6. An alienated minority. We can ignore the plight (and, yes, the attitude) of the disaffected youth culture in the inner cities only at our peril -- and theirs.