Fortunately for those of us who rejoice when voter turnout increases (and really this should be everybody), we are starting to be given reasons to care more. It might never be the same as back in the days when anyone of a certain age held a lottery ticket to could send them to war, but those days may yet return. That said, in lieu of reviewing the positions of the candidates on issues that they have chosen to highlight, I thought it might be useful to note what I think is going to be at stake in November:
- America's place in the world (politically): No one can be the dominant power in the world forever; the mark of a declining power is when you can't see it staring at you in the mirror. If you think national security is an issue now, wait until one of those countries with one billion people and/or with nuclear capabilities decides that they don't want to take our petulant attitude toward them anymore. Who will put us on a track to prevent that day from coming? Who will have the judgement to correctly answer the question: "What is an imminent threat?" Or, if it's inevitable, who will make sure that there are some other countries that still like us enough to stand with us on that day? I think that it will be the individual who best appreciates the value of human life (not in the family planning sense, let's set that issue aside for the moment).
- America's place in the world (economically): First, the dollar is falling. And most of us don't have the foggiest idea of how to pick it up. It's like our paychecks are all getting smaller. I'll tell you what doesn't help: spiralling national debt. Forget policy: mathematically, you just can't collect less taxes and spend more money and expect everything to be cool. Not too mention folks around the world worrying that America is not a creditworthy place (or a welcome place, for that matter) to invest their money. Second, globalization. It is inevitable. And when people in poor places get jobs, that's good for the globe. But someone needs to invest in American innovation too.
- The "O" word. Oil is a consumer issue (it's making everything more expensive here, and even more so because the dollar is worth less); a jobs issue--if we invest heavily in long-term, leap-frog alternative energy initiatives, you can bet we will generate lots of jobs here; an environmental issue--I don't know much about CO2, but it seems like the downside of doing nothing about our emissions issues could be a lot worse than the upside; and, by the way, it's also a national security issue--if we don't need oil then we don't need to fight about it, and we don't need to be nice to shady-ish governments just because they have a lot of it.
- The Supreme Court. Stevens, 87 years old. Ginsburg, 74. Scalia, 71. Kennedy, 71. Breyer, 69. Souter, 68. Thomas, 59. Alito, 57. Roberts, 53. Four members to the right, four to the left, and a swing vote. This was touted as an issue in the last election but ended up being swallowed by other matters, and sure enough, we got two new judges. Looking ahead, we will have at least one new judge in the next four years, and we might have as many as four new judges in the next eight years. Aside from amendments to the constitution itself, the Supreme court has made the most influential decisions in the history of American policy. The President gets to pick these folks, almost at will. So let's choose our President very carefully.
- The future of Africa: If you're under 40, you probably recognize the hook, "mo' money, mo' problems." Well this is true in some places in Africa. What is even more true in Africa is the lesser known hook, "no money, mo' problems." That's right. No money, no education, no food, no electricity, no running water, no political stability, and perhaps most importantly, no healthcare. I know how hard it is to compare a problem down the block to a problem 7,000 miles away, but the magnitude and immediacy of Africa's problems are gi-normous and rather harrowing. Can you imagine dying from a cavity? Can you imagine if all your friends had HIV at the same time...and no medical care? And, incidentally, unstable countries are more prone to influence from bad guys. So this is a national security issue, too.
These are some of the issues where we find ourselves at a fork in the road, but there are plenty of others. What is at stake for you this November?