As a proud liberal, I’ve spent much of the past few days celebrating. Election season has successfully come and gone and I can now begin to catch up on all the sleep I lost Tuesday evening. I’m left though, wondering about all the things we failed to discuss. The economy and foreign policy dominated the debate, so much so that traditionally important issues were left by the wayside. Here are just a few of those issues:
1) Gun Control
Over the years, the debate on gun control has been increasingly pushed out of the public’s mind. This year the conversation was practically non-existent (save for a question during the 2nd debate, that digressed into a conversation about the importance of 2 parent households). If a time capsule from 2012 only contained political conversation, you would never know that 2012 was also a year of incredible gun violence. During a midnight showing of Dark Knight Rises a gunman opened fire in the theater killing 12. Chicago spent the summer dealing with high gun violence and gun deaths and in October surpassed the total number of gun related deaths from 2011. In Wisconsin an individual opened fire in a Sikh temple killing 7. These incidents received the bulk of the news coverage, but they are a handful among many. And yet, the topic of gun control was barely mentioned during the campaign.
Throughout the Republican primaries immigration played an important role and it appeared, especially with President Obama’s executive order this summer to legalize individuals who were brought into the country illegally by their parents, that immigration would be at the forefront of the campaign. But, by the time the general campaign got under way, the discussion of immigration and immigration policy was pushed out of sight and out of mind. There was little mention of the implications of the President’s order. There was little mention of the legislation in Arizona that many equate with racial profiling. Of all the issues that were left behind during the election cycle, this one is the most puzzling to me. Immigration in many ways is an economic issue and could have played a significant role in the economic debate.
3) Climate Change and the Environment
If there was one good thing that came out of about Hurricane Sandy it was the fact that it finally got people talking about climate change (too bad it came with just a week left in the campaign). This is a real concern. Climate change is real. The damage sustained during Sandy would not have been as substantial just a few years ago. But, with melting ice caps and rising water levels in the oceans, it pushed the water further inland and caused considerable damage. This came after a summer where the west faced one of the worst fire seasons in history. At any given time states like Colorado, New Mexico, Washington, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming battled upwards of 8 fires per state. All thanks to dry conditions and excessive heat. And yet, despite all the damage climate change caused in the past 6 months alone the campaigns seemed to forget how important it is to everyone’s well-being.
4) Pay Equity
I know what you’re thinking, “this was totally covered during the campaign.” Not really. Aside from a question asked during the second debate (which mostly told us that there are “binders full of women”) the topic was barely broached. Women’s issues during the campaign were focused on women’s reproductive rights and freedoms (and rightfully so considering certain comments about rape and abortion). The reality, however, remains that women still make less than men. Women still have a harder time getting promotions, raises, or even getting hired in the first place. And oh yeah, there are more women in the United States than men.
If you live anywhere near Chicago, you heard a lot about issues surrounding education. Unfortunately, if you live most anywhere else in the country, you didn’t. The United States public education system is still muddling along. There’s still a discrepancy between inner-city schools and suburban schools. There’s still disagreement over vouchers. There’s still a constant fight between schools, school boards, teachers and teachers’ unions. (If you think the partisan gridlock in Washington is bad you should take a closer look at the gridlock between schools boards and teachers). Considering children are the heart and soul of the country and their futures are the ones at stake, you would think, you would hope, that their education and improving their education would be one of the main conversations of the election. But, not this year.
We heard a lot about unemployment during the campaign. We heard a lot about taxes. We heard a lot about the number of people on food stamps and living under the poverty line. But, one issue consistently missing from the discussion, year after year, is homelessness. There are large portions of this country that do not have a roof over their head on a daily basis. They can’t guarantee they’ll have lunch, let alone anything to eat, each day. We think of the homeless as the person who sleeps on the bench in the park. But, we fail to realize that the homeless spectrum is much wider than we’d care to think. If we can talk about the poor and poverty, we should be able to have a decent discussion on how to also combat homelessness.
I could keep listing topics that were missing from the campaign: A comprehensive discussion about same-sex marriage and LGBT rights; Energy; The death penalty; Separation of church and state; Healthcare. These are just a select few that I felt deserved considerably more discussion than they got. We all get tunnel vision when it comes to politics. The average voter is a single issue voter, waiting for one particular answer to one particular question. But the role of politics, of campaigning, of government is to address the concerns of everyone. Yes, the economy was the thing on everyone’s mind this year. But, we can’t jeopardize the rights and freedoms of whole groups of people to address one concern. The reality of it is, whether we realize it or not, all political issues are tied together. The economy has an impact on education and immigration and pay equity and these issues can also play a significant role in economic growth. All issues are important. The beauty of politics is its ability to educate voters on variety of issues and help voters understand how these issues connect to one another. Unfortunately, this year we failed.
 Immigration was not discussed comprehensively during the campaign, but some of the positions taken by the Republican Party on immigration are believed to have played a significant role in the Latino/Hispanic communities overwhelming support of Obama on Election Day.