Political M.A.D.ness

Surely the biggest, most important issue in this year’s presidential election is, or should be, what to do about the so-called fiscal/economic cliff looming on January first.

The issues that are being talked about are of course important to a lot of people and I am not suggesting for a second that they are not important to talk about. The problem is that if we do not seriously address the cliff issue properly, a lot of those other issues will suffer as well. We cannot, must not, be ostriches!

So why are the two candidates not talking more about the cliff and what they propose to do about it in sufficient detail to give voters a better basis on which to make an informed choice?

Sadly, the answer, in part, is that the cliff is such a big complex of fiscal, economic, financial, defense, health and tax issues, which have already been kicked down the road for years now. It truly has become a topic about which only a very few super experts can speak with sufficient knowledge, experience and wisdom to make sense of the subject as well as be credible.

The other reason it is not being talked about by the candidates, other than to berate each other for not being specific about their plans, is that it could be political madness if they actually did get specific.

The cornerstone of arms control doctrine, which many believe has kept the world free of atomic weapons since the end of WWII, is called mutual assured destruction or simply “MAD” for short. In the same vein both candidates realize that talking about the specifics of their plans is likely to assure their political destruction because as they enumerate those specifics they start to lose, not gain, votes in almost all instances across the board.

The result has been a tacit compact to not get specific and instead simply complain that the other guy will not get specific. That may suit their needs but leaves the voters and the country in the dark.

Imagine the political consequences of losing the tax deduction for interest on home ownership. Imagine the political consequences of severely limiting charitable deductions. The furthest either candidate has gone so far is to suggest some cap on all deductions. And, then when it comes to cutting government funding, recall the hubbub created by Big Bird’s prospective demise if support for PBS were eliminated — even though it turns out that Big Bird really now flies without help.

While there absolutely will need to be cuts, large and small, from many parts of the Federal budget to deal with the cliff, no political candidate is likely to speak out loud about those subjects unless and until they are forced to by some independent bi-partisan process.

As we have eased our way over the past 50 years into accepting that there must be presidential debates and now have a serious Commission in place to manage and produce those debates, perhaps we need a similar commission to ensure that all the critical questions in presidential races be asked and answered.

For example, such a commission could produce a formal questionnaire for both candidates, for which they would have to supply answers or risk exposure and serious criticism for refusing to do so.

Today we have to suffer through debates at which the questions come only from ordinary citizens or journalists who seem reluctant to ask questions about such a complicated subject. Perhaps they worry that they might not understand or like the answers.

The result is that we are going into this year’s election largely ignorant because of lack of honest openness from both candidates on the most important question facing the nation at this time.


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