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As you may have noticed, the general election campaign started last week. The Republicans understand Romney is it, no white knight is coming. And Tuesday President Obama made what sounds like a keynote address for his fall campaign.

From the way Romney has campaigned so far, and the amount of money both candidates are raising, you can guess that it's going to be ugly. You you really can'€™t spend that kind of money on warm, fuzzy stuff. Constant advertising annoys people, so the best you can hope for is to transfer their annoyance to your opponent.

Ugly campaigns usually lack substance. And that's unfortunate, because an honest debate between liberal and conservative worldviews, resulting in a clear choice by a well-informed electorate, would be a tremendous plus for this country.

[reposted from The Weekly Sift]

OK, it won'€™t happen. But we shouldn'€™t just shrug and let the candidates off the hook. Even as we see the waters start to circle around the sewer drain, let€'s review what this campaign should be about.

Inequality. We'€™ve been in a vicious cycle for 30 years now: The rich get richer; they use that money to buy more political power; and then they use that political power to lower their taxes, weaken the the regulations they have to follow, and otherwise game the system in their favor --€“ plus make it easier to buy political power.

The Republican Party has been the main (but not the only) vehicle for the rich, so it will be interesting to see whether President Obama succeeds in raising this issue, or if conservatives manage to label it all as envy and class warfare. I thought Obama laid it out pretty well Tuesday:

In this country, broad-based prosperity has never trickled down from the success of a wealthy few. It has always come from the success of a strong and growing middle class. ... And yet, for much of the last century, we have been having the same argument with folks who keep peddling some version of trickle-down economics. They keep telling us that if we'd convert more of our investments in education and research and health care into tax cuts -- especially for the wealthy -- our economy will grow stronger. ... Now, the problem for advocates of this theory is that we'€™ve tried their approach -- on a massive scale. The results of their experiment are there for all to see.

The National Security State. At a time when government is supposed to be tightening its belt, we continue to spend more on defense than all our potential enemies put together. Is that really necessary? How much money could we save with a less aggressive foreign policy that didn'€™t inject us into every conflict? Would the world really be a worse place? We'€™ll never know how the Arab Spring would have handled Saddam if we hadn't spent all that blood and treasure in Iraq.

And then there'€™s the internal effect on our liberty and democracy. Government surveillance gets ever more intrusive, and more and more of the government'€™s actions are secret. How necessary is that?

The opposing case is that the world is a dangerous place, and would be even more dangerous if the US didn't police it. Maybe Norway can keep its freedom defended with (and from) a relatively small security force, but the US doesn't have that option.

It'€™s President Obama'€™s fault that we won'€™t have this discussion. (Ron Paul was the only Republican candidate who wanted to talk about it.) He has largely continued the Bush national security policies rather than challenge them.

Climate change. There are lots of legitimate liberal/conservative issues to hash out concerning how to deal with climate change: Should we lower CO2 by market mechanisms (cap and trade), by a carbon tax, or by direct government regulation? Should we bargain hard to get other countries to do their part, or should we take the lead? What CO2 level should we be shooting for and how fast should we try to get there? How do we balance the expense of current CO2 reduction versus investments in future research? Can geo-engineering play a role?

We aren'€™t having those debates because the fossil fuel corporations have spent enormous amounts of money to make the existence of climate change the issue, when in fact the science is well established. The Republican Party has been acting as a wholely-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel companies, and some Democrats have also been either bought or intimidated by energy-industry cash.

The Deficit. Elsewhere I've presented the idea that the deficit is not the doomsday device many would have you believe. But it is a symptom of a broken political process. Congress' main job is to figure out what we as a people want to buy and how we're going to pay for it. If it can't do that, what can it do?

A big chunk of the problem is the misinformed electorate. Survey after survey shows that we grossly overestimate how much money is spent on welfare, foreign aid, and whatever National-Endowment-for-the-Arts-type program we find most offensive. We also grossly underestimate how many government services we use personally, and we're misinformed about how our taxes compare to Americans of recent decades. (Hint: Our taxes are far lower, especially for corporations and the wealthy.)

About half the country thinks we can eliminate the deficit with spending cuts that don't touch "programs that benefit people like you". That wishful thinking allows candidates to get away with proposing big-but-vague spending cuts that exempt defense, Social Security, and Medicare -- just about everything we spend big on.

Immigration. Both liberals and conservatives are conflicted about immigration. There is no ideologically pure answer to our immigration problem, which is why the conversation never goes anywhere.

The centuries-old dream of American employers is to have a workforce that can't vote. So their ideal is to have temporary foreign-worker programs: We bring people in for ten years or so, get them to work hard for very little money, and then send them home.

But working-class whites see immigrants-taking-American-jobs as one of the social changes they want the Republican Party to protect them from. Hence the rhetoric about rounding up the millions of undocumented Hispanic workers and sending them home.

The last thing the Republican Party wants is millions of poor, non-white new citizens -- who would probably vote for Democrats. Democrats would like that, but the unions that support Democrats probably wouldn't, for the same reason as conservative working-class whites.

Everybody agrees that we shouldn't have millions of undocumented people wandering around. It's a security risk, makes our worker-protection rules unenforcible, and generally undermines the rule of law. But since neither side has a solution it wants to take to the voters, both will posture about the issue rather than try to make progress.

Health care. Our health care system is a mess. We spend way more per person than any other country, and we get worse results. This is a great country for someone as rich as Dick Cheney to get a heart transplant, but it's a terrible country for a poor pregnant woman to get pre-natal care. When you average it out, our life expectancy sucks and we lead the industrialized world in unnecessary deaths.

ObamaCare (like the RomneyCare it's based on) is an imperfect first step at reform. I think it gives away far too much to health insurance companies and drug companies, but that's politics. If Congress repeals it or the Supreme Court throws it out, we're essentially nowhere, because the "replace" part of the Republican "repeal and replace" slogan is just a word; there is no actual plan that addresses any of the substantive issues.

And liberals shouldn't let Obama say "Done now." ObamaCare has a lot of holes that need filling.

The future of democracy. This issue runs through a lot of the others. Ideally, individual voters would educate themselves about the issues that concern them and elect candidates to represent their views. If they really felt strongly, they'd donate $20 or $50 to a campaign.

We're far, far away from that ideal, and moving farther all the time. The Supreme Court has ruled that money equals speech, and that more speech is better than less. So elections are dominated by massive spending that produces better propaganda -- not better educated voters.

In addition, while voters may wake up in time for an election, the big-money interests never sleep. Defeat some special-interest measure like SOPA, and within a few months it will be back in a different form. The big banks can hire entire staffs of lobbyists to write loopholes into new regulations. Voters don't have the time to ferret that stuff out, and if they did, they couldn't organize themselves fast enough to do anything about it.

We aren't having this discussion because no candidate who took it seriously could raise enough money. Worse, neither party even has an ideal vision of how to handle it. The closest thing to a practical reform vision I've seen so far is Lawrence Lessig's.

Resist. Chances are, this election will be decided by something stupid: a blip in the unemployment numbers, a new Romney gaffe on the Etch-a-Sketch scale, or Obama's inability to prove that he is not a shape-shifter from the Gamma Quadrant. Heck, we've had elections decided on the Pledge of Allegiance.

But we don't have to give in to that. Collectively, social networking ought to give us Arab-Spring-level power, if we exercise it. We can refuse to respond to nonsense. We can keep coming back to the real issues. It may not work in this cycle. But eventually, we might be able to drag the candidates back to what's important.

Originally posted to Pericles on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 11:20 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You're an optimist. (11+ / 0-)

    Dancing With The Stars now has a two-hour time-block, and pure pablum dominates the TV ratings.

    There's a reason that we have the problems that we have. I have a feeling that the election will be decided based on the candidates' stands regarding Justin Beiber's new haircut.

    Still, there's nothing wrong with being an optimist. It dulls the pain. And you wrote a great post.

    •  I'm intrigued with the gun-worship programming (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Juarez Traveller

      If I had a functional sailboat, and enough funds to watch America dissolve I'd perhaps find the humor in the whole damn farce.

      Unfortunately, I'm in the trenches.

      C'mon. It's funny.

      People are funny as hell.

      The only "left" the Democrats have given us is the last couple of decades is a Southpaw President

      by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Tue Apr 10, 2012 at 12:02:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's got to be funny to someone... (2+ / 0-) long as they're on the outside looking in. Personally, I've been thinking about Tahiti. Do you think that might be far enough away?

        Aw. Damn. I don't like seafood.

        •  Sea of Cortez (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Since cannabis is the enemy du-jour and "The Guvmint' really needs to insist that we pay taxes on tobacco and it's a vice and good god the health-care issue- and cannabis is schedule one..

          Yo hablo un poquito es bueno 'enufffo."

          They won't shoot me if I share. I'm a sharing king of guy.

          The only "left" the Democrats have given us is the last couple of decades is a Southpaw President

          by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Tue Apr 10, 2012 at 01:11:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Vegitables are the key to life (0+ / 0-)

          At least according to the charlatan on PBS rerun this week. If you buy his program you won't have an autistic offspring?

          Seaweed.  Jesus says fishing is good. "Fishers of men" like the made me sing as a child.

          Lo and behold. The seaweed is nutritious and rich in iodine.

          I'll do landfall for chocolate. Because God made me a chocolate junkie.

          The only "left" the Democrats have given us is the last couple of decades is a Southpaw President

          by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Tue Apr 10, 2012 at 02:12:30 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  First the Democrats Oppose Fighting Several of (11+ / 0-)

    these themes. The inequality cycle is closer to 45 years old and both parties have made positive contributions to transferring wealth, support, protections and opportunity (overall) from the 99% to the 1%. While we have many progressive Democrats who individually oppose that kind of governance, we don't have a party that does.

    We gotta do what we gotta do for this half year, but long term we have to turn outside the Democratic party and start manufacturing the better issues and candidates, and come up with some kind of messaging system, that will replace conservative Dems with progressivess.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 11:53:43 AM PDT

    •  Outside? (4+ / 0-)

      You're absolutely correct that BOTH Democrats and Republicans are responsible for economic injustice, just to mention one of our critical problems. (H.R. 347, for instance, passed unanimously in the Senate and -- more surprisingly still -- with only four dissenting votes in the House. Goodbye, First Amendment!)

      But, whether we like it or not, we have a two party system. Third parties can sometimes be used as spoilers, but the deck is so stacked against them that third party candidates simply are not viable. We can vote for them in protest, but even if they represent progressives' positions better than Democrats do, they can't win.

      Progressives' success will come by taking over the Democratic Party, just as tea partiers have found some success by taking over the Republican Party (although they're so nuts that they'll never have any real success). Once we get rid of Democrats that are no better than Republicans, we'll be able to start solving our problems. But it's going to take a long time. Most people will continue voting for the lesser of two evils, and we'll continue to have right-wing government while they do.

      •  Outside as in (6+ / 0-)

        direct action.

        Driving away Glenn Beck's and Rush Limbaugh's advertisers. Millions of bank customers switching to credit unionsl. Corporations leaving ALEC.

        These are all things our elected officials could never achieve. But we did and really a very small percentage of us did. If more people participate, we'll get more done quicker. In fact, the ONLY way we'll address most of the tough issues we face today is OUTSIDE government.

        And, if we really want government to do something, we'll have to put a gun to its head by occupying DC with a couple of million people. Of course, the moderates will have to be eating bugs in a prison cell before they do that.

        The suffering will continue until it is sufficient to mobilize a counterforce sufficient to overwhelm the plutocracy. And no sooner.

        by Words In Action on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 05:28:07 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  My grandmother was a good Democrat (6+ / 0-)

      She had JFK's photo framed and hanging on her wall till the day she died.  Never missed a vote, and always voted Dem.

      Still...she was fairly conservative.  But she was poor, and she knew who was who at the ballot box when it came to looking after people like her.  

      Our party has lost a lot of people like my grandparents...And I've lost them to the grave.  If we can't get get truly progressive Dems in office, I would at least like to see the party recapture it's ability to speak to people like my Grandparents.

      There are a lot of Republicans who drifted that way because they felt they were no longer being spoken to.  There are a lot of greedy, bigoted Republicans, to be sure...but there's also a reason why so many people call themselves Independents.

      As for party contributions to income inequality, one only needs to overlay a graph of income inequality with a graph of how many jobs were transferred overseas after NAFTA (Clinton), China's designation as Most Favored Trading Nation (again, Clinton, in violation of a campaign pledge), and its acceptance into WTO (Dubya).

      I would add trade as an 8th issue.

      "By your late thirties the ground has begun to grow hard. It grows harder and harder until the day that it admits you.” Thomas McGuane, Nobody's Angel

      by Keith930 on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 04:35:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Problem is (11+ / 0-)

    that with most of these issues, BOTH major parties are largely in agreement - and on the wrong side.

    "I wish I could tell you, in the midst of all of this, that President Obama was waging the kind of fight against these draconian Republican proposals that the American people would like to see. He is not." -- Senator Bernie Sanders

    by Sagebrush Bob on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 12:40:01 PM PDT

    •  and the thing they both agree on most is (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Words In Action

      punt the ball.

      "By your late thirties the ground has begun to grow hard. It grows harder and harder until the day that it admits you.” Thomas McGuane, Nobody's Angel

      by Keith930 on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 04:38:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  it's not much better at the local level, Bob (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Words In Action, qofdisks

      In Los Angeles, which is, has been and likely will always be a Democratic bastion, they have been talking about trying to do something with the Los Angeles River for decades now.

      There was a stretch of bike trail that was completed in Gelendale not long ago that took ten years of wrangling, debate, and endless meetings with all of the stakeholders.

      Finally, after a tortuous consensus was reached as to what it should look like, somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 mile of paved bike path was the cost of $1.1 million.

      We have lost our ability to govern, be governed, and have any hope that those we elect will do their job.

      "By your late thirties the ground has begun to grow hard. It grows harder and harder until the day that it admits you.” Thomas McGuane, Nobody's Angel

      by Keith930 on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 04:43:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good issues, important issues, (3+ / 0-)

    and therefore, our current political cystern will utterly fail precisely on those issues.

    What we call god is merely a living creature with superior technology & understanding. If their fragile egos demand prayer, they lose that superiority.

    by agnostic on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 01:00:54 PM PDT

  •  Here are my seven items this election is about (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DBunn, Larsstephens, deha

    1) the Supreme Court
    2) the Supreme Court
    3) the Supreme Court
    4) the Supreme Court
    5) the Supreme Court
    6) the Supreme Court
    7) the Supreme Court

  •  I really wish (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DBunn, Words In Action, ybruti

    that campaigns could be about issues. With such a large country, where so few citizens actually meet candidates, and with such a distorted media, there is far too little focus on issues.

    The future of democracy is the most important of all the ones you identified in my eyes. I would add to campaign finance reform also the need to remove barriers to voting for eligible citizens.

    •  the fact that voter ID laws, paperless voting (4+ / 0-)

      systems, and other changes to our democratic process are clearly aimed at stifling Democratic turnout and/or electoral prospects makes our Party's relative silence on the issue almost deafening.  

      Something strange is going on, and historians 100 years from now may uncover just what it is...but nobody in the present seems to be too concerned about it.

      "By your late thirties the ground has begun to grow hard. It grows harder and harder until the day that it admits you.” Thomas McGuane, Nobody's Angel

      by Keith930 on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 05:43:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Words In Action

    The radical Republican party is the party of oppression, fear, loathing and above all more money and power for the people who robbed us.

    by a2nite on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 04:19:51 PM PDT

  •  And never let them pretend the issue is (5+ / 0-)

    "entitlement reform."  

    This is the pure evil of these mass marketing geniuses.  There is an unemployment crisis, and they want to pretend that somehow this is all because the Food Stamp President signaled to the welfare queens that it's ok to loaf and collect their welfare checks.



    We lost millions of jobs under Bush, Lehman Bros went bankrupt, and the rest of the world pretty nearly with them, the result is massive unemployment

    And the burning issue of our day is "entitlements" and "dependency"?  8.3% unemployment is because there's an affirmative action black man in the White House?

    We lose, because we let them get away with this lie over and over again.

    Once again:  This bad economy is the fault of R policies.  Massive tax cuts did not create wealth for all.  Deregulation lead to worldwide economic collapse.

    Even Romney admits that O did not cause the recession.  Not stop him right there:  SO WHAT DID CAUSE IT BOZO?

    Now you want to pretend O made it worse?  Really?  You would have made it all better by--letting Detroit go bankrupt?  Letting the housing market hit bottom?

    Because you know, everything O did that did work, Romney supported.

  •  This election should be about PROTECTION ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, opinionated

    The entire purpose of a democracy is to protect the populace from a would-be tyrant rising to political power.

    The entire purpose of the Constitution is to protect individual rights from being denied or violated by larger forces.

    The entire reason we build and employ a strong military is to protect our shores from an invading enemy.

    The entire reason to enact any law at all is to protect society in some way.

    So it could also be said that ...

    Barack Obama protected us from descending into another Great Depression.

    Barack Obama protected us from future harm by the Most Wanted terrorist on the planet: Osama bin Laden.

    Barack Obama protected women from further discrimination in pay with the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

    Democrats enacted health insurance reform and called it The Patient Protection (and Affordable Care) Act to protect people from the practices that have kept people uninsured for decades (dropping them when they get sick, refusing to cover people who've been sick in the past, etc.).

    Democrats vow to protect Earned benefits programs like Social Security and Medicare.

    Democrats will fight to protect a woman's right to choose.

    Democrats will fight to protect democracy from the destructive influence of Citizen's United (give us majorities in both Houses and we'll write a law repealing it)!

    Democrats will protect the right of every eligible citizen to vote, without having to jump through hoops.

    This imagery of Obama and Democrats as the protectors also plays into the conservative "Strict Father" moral thinking and actually stands a chance of being able to successfully win some of the middle/right over to Obama and Democrats in congressional races.

    And with a common theme running a thread through all our policy messaging, it won't matter what "October Surprise" they try to sink us with, we will easily be able to adapt the protector message against it.

    Stop the party of Gut & Spend policies that gut our Earned Benefits programs like Social Security and Medicare and spends on tax breaks for the wealthy elite.

    by jillwklausen on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 08:30:30 PM PDT

  •  Remember this diary, (0+ / 0-)

    Now add this,

    Or just maybe this is just too depressing.

    We're finished. As Morris Berman says, we won't recognize our country in twenty years. I still enjoy reading political sites and Kos is one of the better ones as far as I'm concerned.

    But I read for pleasure, not because I think anything will change. I read poetry for the same reason. Wallace Stevens is one of my favorites. So is Ezra Pound. And Poe.

  •  "Global Warming is real and man-made" (0+ / 0-)

    And your babies will die a horrible death.

    Not politically correct enough? I was tired of being "human" anyway...

    It's a bad, terrible, almost funny joke, this one. Silly primates.

    The only "left" the Democrats have given us is the last couple of decades is a Southpaw President

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Mon Apr 09, 2012 at 11:42:17 PM PDT

  •  Bold and Capitalize "Climate Change" (0+ / 0-)

    Earth hasn't seen this shit-change for a long time.

    Just wait for the polar shift and the Mayan calendar nutcases on The History Channel with the bad hair could be right.

    And prove once and for all that it was a joke, and "God" has /snark up the ying yang.

    The only "left" the Democrats have given us is the last couple of decades is a Southpaw President

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Tue Apr 10, 2012 at 12:18:11 AM PDT

  •  #8 issue (0+ / 0-)

    Vote for the lesser evil. As opposed to the rent-demanding lessor evil.

    I am not a commodity, nor a lessee.

    Oh look! I made a funny. Perhaps the red-light flashing-camera around the corner will cut me some slack. Or the hooker.

    "Rise-up" is almost gauche.

    I'm almost dead. it's a time/ genetic timb-bomb age thing.

    You "yun-gun's" really oughtt'a step back - and then step forward. It's all yours, and all on you and welcome to it.

    They're cooking off species every day and turning the ocean acidic. No more tuna sandwiches, ever.

    Do something!

    The only "left" the Democrats have given us is the last couple of decades is a Southpaw President

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Tue Apr 10, 2012 at 12:47:46 AM PDT

  •  They are virtually the same candidate (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Juarez Traveller, perkinwarbek

    I don't see much changing on issues that are most concerning to me no matter who wins.  I have decided this past weekend to fade into the non-voting world or lodge a protest vote.  I will be weening myself away from commenting at this site (it's a bit a addicting and I can't go cold turkey!).

  •  More of this, please. n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Juarez Traveller

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Tue Apr 10, 2012 at 08:15:33 AM PDT

  •  The surveillance state (0+ / 0-)

    is regrettably not what this election is about. But it will be one day, and if what might risibly be called the "the left" doesn't do a better job with it (and the current administration is accelerating the surveillance state, not reining it in) the right certainly will. Now, do you want a libertarian right or a libertarian left in control? Because, if there's any vitality left in these United States, it will be one or the other.

    The United States is unusual among the industrial democracies in the rigidity of the system of ideological control - "indoctrination," we might say - exercised through the mass media. Noam Chomsky

    by perkinwarbek on Tue Apr 10, 2012 at 10:47:46 AM PDT

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