As the presidential election campaign comes to a close on decision day, Nov. 4, one point stands out clearly. Campaigns are not run on more than two or three substantive issues, and even they are pursued at a vague level of generality. Military defense, inflation and unemployment, of course, are the current issues that provide the grist for the one-liners and stock speeches on the campaign trail.
Election time should be viewed as a major opportunity for political debate and citizen involvement. Over what subjects? Well, here are the issues that I believe have been neglected almost entirely by the major presidential candidates:
- Campaign financing by special interest groups has become a highly sophisticated and no longer subtle form of political bribery, permitted by a law passed by the bribe-takers in Congress. Recently, the formula has become simple: an industry or company forms a political action committee and then funds the incumbents or challengers who will legislate in ways that profit the givers.
“It’s all a matter of money,” said one corporate money collector. Should it be? Do we have to vote in a political system that puts politicians on the auction block for the highest bidder from the oil, auto, doctor or other business?
Have you heard a word out of the candidates about this generic corruption of representative government?
- The business pages of our newspapers report regularly the mergers and acquisitions that mark the control over the economy by fewer, giant, multinational corporations. This thrust toward monopoly power becomes trebly significant when vast economic power links with the new computer and energy technologies to produce decisive political influence over governments and election campaigns.
To make matters worse, the corporate oligarchs (Chrysler, Penn-Central and others) are being mismanaged, which further burdens the tax and unemployment rolls. Yet, Big Business abuses almost never are mentioned by the major candidates who are falling all over themselves to pledge more welfare from Washington for corporate failures.
- Remember when poverty used to be a campaign focus? Well, poverty still is very much present in America, but the major candidates veer away from doing something about the plight of the poor, elderly, handicapped and minorities.
On releasing the recent report by the National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity, chairman Arthur I. Blaustein took to task “those who have built their political careers by attacking the most powerless segments of our society.” The council report dispels the notion that the trickle-down theory of alleviating poverty through private economic growth has worked in the past decade.
- Deep-rooted political corruption and corporate crime, so heavily documented by the press, regulatory agencies and the courts, should call for creative reforms and adequate enforcement resources. Again, mum’s the word for the candidates.
- The wave of chemical contamination in the workplace, the environment and drinking water affecting millions of Americans has been front-page news for a year. It is as if the candidates have not noticed.
- Empowering citizens with more specific and usable rights and remedies to better govern themselves should be a bedrock of any political campaign. But not in 1980. Measures long pending in Congress would improve the election process (through simplified voter registration, for example), consumer defense, access to government proceedings by non-wealthy citizens, and a close taxpayer monitoring of government expenditures.
Perhaps in future elections enough citizens will act on the truism that politics is too important to be left to the politicians. For now, do vote on Nov. 4, even if you have to write in the name of your preference.