The Issues 2008

What's on your mind this election year? As the national media focus on the presidential horse race, and who's sprinting ahead, chances are good that these issues will crop up.

The Iraq War: Entering its sixth year this week, Iraq is the third longest war in U.S. history (after the Revolution and Vietnam), with nearly 4,000 American soldiers killed, and more than 29,000 seriously injured. Experts estimate civilian casualties to be between 50,000 and 600,000, and the displaced number more than 4 million. The U.S. has spent some $600 billion so far, and President Bush requested another $200 billion for this year, or about $380,000 a minute. Hmmm … worth it?

It's the Economy, Stupid (Redux): The housing bubble has burst, gas prices are heading to $4 a gallon (along with all the other prices outpacing wages), inflation is up, and stocks are down. Millions of Americans live in poverty. Practitioners of the dismal science aren't saying the "r" word, yet, using words like "soft patch," instead.

Health Care: Nearly 50 million Americans have no health insurance; a unique situation in the developed world. We also pay more for our pharmaceuticals; the cost of health care has risen five times the rate of inflation. Employers are shifting costs to workers, or dropping plans altogether. Mississippi scrapes the bottom of the barrel on most health indicators, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and so forth, with all indicators skewed heavily towards minorities. And people who don't see doctors regularly are more likely to have serious problems when they do finally seek medical attention, which are more expensive overall.

The Immigration Wedge-y: Americans are ambivalent about the "huddled masses." About half of us say that there are too many immigrants—although almost all of us have immigrants in the family tree. The other half think immigrants contribute to the economy. Three-quarters of us think it's too easy for immigrants to get in, but almost all of us agree that immigrants do the jobs few Americans want. The facts about immigrants' contributions to state and national economies are hard to get—because that's not a great vote-getter.

The Environment: When Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental work, it became official: Global warming isn't a figment of his imagination. The ice caps are melting, temperatures are increasing, and species are disappearing. Now, what are we going to do about it besides replacing our light bulbs?

Globalization: Outsource much? Globalization generally means free trade, open borders, and improved communication and transportation. On the downside, corporations seek out the lowest environmental and labor standards to keep production costs low, depressing standards worldwide, while exporting jobs offshore.

Abortion: "It's immoral," say the pro-lifers. "It's a health and women's rights issue," say the pro-choicers. Should the rights of the unborn supersede the rights of women? And when does life begin, really? Since Roe v. Wade, advocates on both sides of the issue have been waging war on each other. Many evangelicals are focusing on poverty and human rights instead this time around; the question is: Have the national media noticed?

Education: The U.S. is the only developed nation that doesn't fully support public education at the national level. Schools are 93 percent supported at the state and local level, which means poorer states like Mississippi are unable to attract good teachers. Educators say that President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" programs are onerous, and, ironically, leave children behind. High school graduation rates are somewhere between 66 and 88 percent, dropping as low as 50 percent for minorities. For college students, tuitions are astronomical; 70 percent of students are unable to prepay. Unless you land a scholarship, that means graduation day arrives along with a huge load of debt.

Civil Rights: This one covers a lot of ground, from religious freedom, access to equal employment and wages, voting, marriage rights and so forth. Our constitution provides that all people be treated equally, regardless of race, color, creed or sexual orientation (well, advocates are working on the last one). In reality, people of all stripes experience bias and bigotry. How much of an issue this is for you probably has to do with your gender, sexual orientation and race, although looking like a Muslim might do you in, too.


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