Americans cannot say that issues have been neglected this primary election season. With the series of debates becoming part of the national conversation, unprecedented attention has been focused on policy differences between presidential candidates.
That doesn't mean every national concern has been discussed. In recent weeks, The Blade has examined the positions of the candidates on prominent issues. But this year's presidential hopefuls need to broaden the discussion. Today we cite several important issues that we feel have not been adequately addressed.
Presidential power. The Bush Administration has been much criticized - and rightly so - for taking a radical, far-reaching approach to executive power. Do the candidates share this view?
The issue has several facets, including the extraordinary number of signing statements that President Bush has attached to legislation to signal the administration's intent to ignore the will of Congress. Warrantless wiretapping in intelligence gathering is part of the issue.
Republican Sen. John McCain is on record as saying he would never attach signing statements to bills. He also has said that he would respect the law on intelligence surveillance.
His Web site says he "will ensure that the war against terrorists is fought intelligently, with patience and resolve, using all instruments of national power. Moreover, he will lead this fight with the understanding that to impinge on the rights of our own citizens or restrict the freedoms for which our nation stands would be to give terrorists the victory they seek."
These fine words, however, did not stop him from siding with the administration in the vote to immunize telecommunications companies that had illegally wiretapped Americans.
Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton line up with their party in this standoff. On signing statements, both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have faulted the Bush Administration's practice but have reserved the right to use them on occasion. Clearly, Americans who do not want another imperial presidency need to hear much more about this.
Social Security. President Bush tried and failed to privatize the system that is essential to the well-being of millions of Americans, but that doesn't mean that reform should be dropped like a hot potato. The day of reckoning has not been postponed.
Mr. McCain is still flirting with privatization but with little appreciation of reality. His answer to a Washington Post questionnaire was this: "I believe that we may meet our obligations to the retirees of today and the future without raising taxes, and I support supplementing the current Social Security system with personal accounts - but not as a substitute for addressing benefit promises that cannot be kept."
Good luck with that.
Both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton are opposed to privatization. The senator from Illinois would start reform by increasing the maximum amount of earnings covered by the Social Security tax. The senator from New York has a plan, but it needs more explanation beyond returning to fiscal responsibility, setting up a bipartisan process to address the problems, and making modest fixes.
Education. As a former staff attorney for the Children's Defense Fund, Mrs. Clinton offers a lot of specifics. She believes the early promise of the No Child Left Behind Act has not been met, principally because it has been underfunded. She is a strong advocate of early childhood education and wants to see pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds. She seeks to identify at-risk youth early on and supports spending $1 billion for intensive intervention. She also would double after-school programs to provide 2 million youngsters with a safe and stimulating environment between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Mr. Obama thought the idea of children meeting high standards in No Child was good but agrees the money and proper implementation were left behind. He, too, emphasizes early childhood education; he has a "Zero to Five" program that seeks to make children ready to enter kindergarten and he wants to beef up Early Head Start and Head Start. He would recruit more teachers and make math and science education a national priority.
Mr. McCain's plans are less expansive. He believes No Child Left Behind was a major step in the right direction, but he says choice and competition are needed to improve education.
The 2008 campaign is in a new phase. The Democratic nominee is still to be decided, while the Republican outcome is settled. Far from having run out of fresh issues, the candidates are just getting started. With nearly eight months left before the general election, Americans must study the candidates' positions and the candidates need to hone their stands.
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