The less-than-subtle media buzz that has been emanating from nearby New Hampshire over the last few months can leave us with no doubt that we’re in a presidential election year. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there has been much meaningful discussion of issues. Instead, news of the election has been focused on public opinion polling, campaign strategy and event news. I think these are all nice things to know, especially for some assessment of candidates’ characters, but I think that democracy in general works best when elections are decided based more on policy preferences than on personalities. So, the question arises, why haven’t issues been the center of attention in this campaign? It seems that by obfuscating issues, the media and politicians in this “new” economy America are both complacent and in support of the status quo.
What I see as the most problematic contention of this election is that we are living in an America that is as free of significant problems as it has been in a long time. I don’t think any detailed, rational analysis of the “State of the Union” would really suggest this conclusion. Instead, I think the challenges of the next 50 years will probably exceed those of the past 50. With no dominant foreign policy platform like anticommunism to guide (for right or wrong) our global choices, we are going to be forced to reassess our countrywide priorities, as well as our moral standards. The role we choose to play will literally make a huge difference in the world. Other issues face us that are likely more long-term in nature (but will probably be vitally important within our lifetimes). Within this nation and globally, environmental problems of a previously unforeseen scale as well as widespread resource depletion will likely grow substantially within our next century. America’s social security and Medicare systems will need to be significantly revamped if they are to last until our generation retires. In general, I believe we need a president who will recognize long-term problems and make some very difficult choices, some of which may hurt our short-term interests to ensure the long-term stability of modern civilization.
So what is my answer? Who among the presidential candidates does it appear could handle the challenges I’ve tried to present? Well, that’s a difficult call. In a way that is unusual for recent American presidential politics, I think that the field of leading candidates is relatively rich in terms of political ability and personality. I think of John McCain, Bill Bradley and Al Gore as all being capable of leading the nation through both times of peace and prosperity or crisis and war. And I think George Bush the younger probably could learn how to govern the country if he were elected to his first national position – although it’s not really something I would enjoy to watch.
Personally, I think Bill Bradley would succeed best, but only because I respect both his liberal policy ideas, as well as his clear, wide-ranging intelligence. If you don’t believe me, and want to be convinced, read his memoir (Sawyer: E840.8.B67 A3 1996). But most of all, I hope you take the issues seriously, and go to the polls. We should all do our part to make sure 21st century American presidents work to solve the problems of the 20th century, as well as combat new ills.