If you plan to tune in tonight to watch the final presidential debate, you probably won’t hear anything about some of our country’s most pressing concerns, like climate change, poverty and campaign finance. Again.
The final debate will be moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, who has announced he will ask questions on debt and entitlements, immigration, the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot spots and the candidates’ fitness to be president (push-ups on stage — yes!). If these topics sound familiar, that’s because, for the most part, they’ve already been widely covered in previous debates.
Wallace’s selected topics come with the caveat that there could be possible changes due to news developments, says the Commission on Presidential Debates.
According to an analysis of the first two presidential debates and the vice presidential debate by the media watchdog FAIR, there has been a “significant emphasis on Russia, terrorism and taxes.” So far, those topics have received a whopping 409 mentions combined, with 77 of those dedicated to Trump’s own taxes.
Wallace’s questions will add to previously covered topics that were asked at least once in each debate. That’s Russia (5 questions ranging from cyber attacks to Syria); ISIS/terrorism (4 questions); taxes (3 about policy, 3 about Trump’s); and race and/or Islamophobia (3 questions).
Of course these are important, newsworthy topics, but so are many others, starting with climate change.
While global warming tops the list of potential threats to the global economy in 2016, according to a World Economic Forum survey of global experts, it’s only been mentioned three times in the debates (by Hillary Clinton, in passing, notes FAIR).
We the people are concerned about climate change, with 73 percent of all registered voters saying they care either “a great deal” or “some” about the issue, according to Pew Research. Fifty-two percent of registered voters say the environment is “very important” to their voting decision in 2016. On Open Debates, the forum for submitting questions for the second debate, a climate change question was the fourth most popular. But there hasn’t been — nor is there expected to be — one single question on the issue at the debates.
Since Wallace will be busy rehashing previously covered topics on Wednesday, it might be helpful to at least know where the candidates stand, although it’s clearly no substitute for actually debating the issues.
Clinton has a detailed plan for combating climate change on her website, with the promise of “taking on the threat of climate change and making America the world’s clean energy superpower.” While she has gained a number of endorsements from leading climate groups, her acceptance of natural gas as a so-called bridge fuel disturbs some, including 350.org, which says it’s “just a fast lane to more climate destruction.”
Donald Trump is a climate change denier and has said on his medium of choice that global warming was “created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” The New York Times sums up his plans for dealing with the issue as follows: “[Trump] has pledged to undo the Obama administration’s climate initiatives, including the Paris climate agreement and the administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would require power plants to clean up their emissions. Mr. Trump has also vowed to expand fossil-fuel exploration.”
[On Tuesday, The New York Times published the Clinton and Trump responses to the top three reader-selected questions – on climate change, income inequality and gun control.]
Despite over 45 million Americans currently living in poverty, not a single question has been asked about that either, and the issue has barely been mentioned. In fact, Democrats had no questions on poverty in any of their primary debates, according to the FAIR analysis.
Child poverty rates in the United States, at 21.6 percent, are nearly double the OECD average of 12.4 percent. Before running for president, in a 2011 Huffington Post blog post, Bernie Sanders called poverty one of the “great moral and economic issues” that we face. He wrote that after the Census revealed that the number of Americans living in poverty had increased to over 46 million, the highest number ever (it has since dropped to 43 million). “Poverty in America today leads not only to anxiety, unhappiness, discomfort and a lack of material goods. It leads to death,” Sanders writes.
But the candidates have faced not one question on a deep problem that affects so many. As Sanders writes, poverty is rarely covered by the mainstream media and “gets even less attention in Congress.” While running for president, Sanders criticized Clinton for her support of welfare reform that Bill Clinton enacted in 1996.
On the “treacherous politics of poverty,” as Max Ehrenfreund of The Washington Post puts it, the latest hacked Clinton emails show that in the 2016 primary Clinton’s aides “were wary of ideas that could alienate centrist and conservative voters who are skeptical of welfare.” This, despite the fact that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will someday themselves experience at least one year below the official poverty line.
— Sen. Bernie Sanders
Clinton has detailed plans to fight poverty on her website, including: expanding the tax credit for children; doubling Early Head Start spending; providing universal preschool for 4-year-olds; subsidizing child care; increasing the minimum wage to $12 an hour; and investing tens of billions of dollars in poor communities, including for housing and job training. To pay for her proposals, she would increase taxes on the wealthy.
According to NPR’s Pam Fessler, when Trump talks about poverty, he talks about creating more jobs, which he aims to achieve by cutting taxes and government regulations and renegotiating trade deals to bring more jobs back to America. He’s also called for a new tax plan to help defray child care costs for working parents. Raise your hand if you would love to see the presidential candidates discuss their plans for combating poverty.
So, why aren’t we discussing it? Part of the reason, as Sanders writes in The Huffington Post, “The [poor] certainly don’t make large campaign contributions, and they don’t have powerful lobbyists representing their interests.”
That leads us to the mother of all issues — campaign finance. The fifth most popular question on Open Debates was: Would you act to repeal Citizens United?
It’s an issue that unites us. Eighty-four percent of Americans think money has too much influence in our political campaigns. But moderators have asked not one question about it, and there’s only been one mention so far in the debates.
This, as Clinton and Trump have raised a jaw-dropping $911 million and $423 million respectively, including money from super PACs. In state and local races across the country, donors have poured more than $1 billion so far this year.
This week, as part of his five-point plan for ethics reform, released on Monday (making it newsworthy!), Trump said he supports campaign finance reform that would keep registered foreign lobbyists from raising money in US elections. He also announced a number of proposals for reforming the revolving doors between government and the interests that they lobby.
The one campaign finance mention in the debates thus far came from Hillary Clinton, when she said in the second debate that she wants to “see the Supreme Court reverse Citizens United and get dark, unaccountable money out of our politics.”
And Chris Wallace, if you want to talk about newsworthy, check out the story by Lee Fang and Andrew Perez published by The Intercept on Tuesday, “Hacked Emails Prove Coordination Between Clinton Campaign and Super PACs.”
According to their review of recently hacked emails, Fang and Perez show “consistent, repeated efforts by the Clinton campaign to collaborate with Super PACs on strategy, research, attacks on political adversaries and fundraising.” That’s against the rules of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
In fact, the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center announced earlier this month that it had filed two sets of complaints with the Federal Election Commission, charging that both the Trump and Clinton campaigns have improperly coordinated with super PACs.
Climate change, poverty and campaign finance reform are just three issues the mainstream media has refused to raise questions about in the debates, although there is a (small) chance that Wallace could pivot.
The other issues that were either barely mentioned or not mentioned at all, and where not one single question was asked: China, gun control, education, student debt, voting rights, drugs, abortion, reproductive health, NSA/privacy/surveillance, Native Americans and LGBTQ.
As Bill Moyers and Michael Winship recently wrote about the presidential debates, “We can’t go on like this. We can no longer leave the electoral process to the two parties or the media conglomerates with whom they’re in cahoots. The stakes are too high.”