Why Political Campaigns Don’t Talk Much About Substantive Issues

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Our political campaigns have a serious and growing problem. Candidates for office rarely mention major issues facing their prospective constituencies, much less propose solutions. Instead, the focus is too often on attacking their opponents in the race or painting pretty PR images of themselves. This does a disservice to democracy, to voters, and to the country at large. If we never have genuine discussions about troubling problems then we’ll never resolve them. Instead, such issues will be glossed over, ignored, and then kicked down the road a few years for someone else to deal with.

The California primary is next Tuesday. I’ve perused many candidate websites and read numerous campaign statements. While they generally do mention the lackluster economy and crumbling state educational system,  generally their solutions, if you can call them that, are vague, promising to somehow grow the economy and fund education more but without giving specifics.

But specifics are precisely what are needed. California candidates need to tell voters in detail how they propose to close the budget deficit, rebuild schools, and fix the broken public pension system. It may be they don’t really know what to do or fear that taking a committed stand would drive away potential voters. This lack of engagement by candidates on crucial issues is almost insulting to voters as it assumes they don’t want to hear bad news or engage in serious discussion of issues.

The growing independent voter movement shows the opposite is true. Voters do want to be engaged in the process and are tired of bland partisanship and feel-good campaign websites with fuzzy stands on issues and little of substance. Love him or hate him, Ron Paul has a hugely committed band of enthusiastic followers and is a perfect example of how taking strong, unwavering stands on issues can lead to having a nationwide impact. The same can be said for the Tea Party. Their candidates aren’t vague about their goals. On the left, small “s” socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders stays committed to his principles too.

But too many politicians and campaigns avoid genuine discussion and stands on issues even though it’s clear that voters, especially independents, want them to. Along with vague stands on issues come pit-bull attacks on the opposition. This is where our political system really suffers. Issues and discussion are drowned out by attacks and counter-attacks. Our now heating up presidential campaign may prove to be one of the nastiest and expensive in history. But it is doubtful that issues of substance will be debated. Whether by fear or calculation, too many traditional political campaigns ignore pressing issues. The independent voter movement heralds a welcome change here and shows that voters are tired of the status quo and want real discussion of real issues.