Campaigns focusing on superficial issues

Tuesday, January 22, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:51 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

The 2008 presidential campaign is careening along virtually rudderless addressing none but the most superficial of issues. By now, any serious minded potential voter must be equating this song and dance routine to the Wendy’s advertisement of the 1980s, “Where’s the beef?” to the fluff of the campaign thus far.

Leading the list of non-issues is the obsession, respectively, with the race, gender and religion of the candidates. Joining these in varying degrees of irrelevance are global warming, the unfair timing of the primaries, the need for change, the usual populist attacks on corporate and small business profit and which candidate best embodies the values of motherhood, apple pie and the flag.

Are we not well into the 21st century? The Constitution, by amendment, removed barriers to citizenship for reason of race or color in 1870, for gender in 1920 and for religious beliefs with the adoption of the First Amendment. The very notion that being black, female or of particular faith might render a candidate less or more qualified for office should be rejected as ridiculous by all, regardless of political persuasion.

To continue that line of thought, affording Sen. Barack Obama “rock star” status as the first serious black candidate, Sen. Hillary Clinton similarly as the first woman and to assign any significance to the depth of any candidate’s faith is equally irrelevant. And, for any candidate to assume a “divine right” to nomination by playing the race, gender or faith card — as has been and is being done — assumes a feckless voting base. A record of leadership and accomplishment is the real test.

I’ll not waste much time on the other splinter issues. While global warming might have some traction among the easily agitated, it is hard to generate alarm over an increase in the Earth’s temperature of six tenths of a degree in 125 years and the fact that four ice ages have been ended without burning of fossil fuels and SUVs. The squabble over primary timing is born of jealousy over the perceived undue influence of Iowa and New Hampshire in the campaign. And, class envy will always be promoted by those who claim to love the working class but hate those who create the jobs.

Not satisfied with being the first woman to have a plausible chance for election, Sen. Clinton has often made gender the signature issue of her campaign. On those occasions of mangled debate and interview questions, she, her husband and her campaign staff have not hesitated to avow unfairness in that she is held to a different standard than are the male campaigners. Tears and plaintive whining might be an appropriate defense mechanism in some arenas; however, if one cannot run with the big dogs, one should stay under the porch.

Enough of gender, race and religion already. What of national defense? Who is best qualified to be commander-in-chief and to lead foreign policy? Regardless of the naive arguments to the contrary, we are involved in a war against an ideology dedicated to our destruction. To be sure, there is a time for diplomacy and a time for action; however, negotiation with fanatics who make no secret of their ultimate ends has historically proven foolish.

The illegal immigration problem needs to be addressed with an idea toward a reasonable solution. This wrong-headed approach has only further divided us in that we are faced with those who would do nothing and those who propose totally unrealistic solutions. While I am skeptical of bipartisan activities, this is an area in which the Congress has dragged its collective feet — the new president must hold those feet to the fire to create a rational compromise.

The economy is always a major consideration. We are promised increased entitlements in health care, education, employment and subsidized housing with vague notions of how this will be funded. I am waiting for the candidate who admits that the government cannot give a dollar to anyone without first removing it in the form of taxes from the one who earned it and that it is not the responsibility of government to provide jobs but rather delegate that incentive to the private sector.

These are the issues that should resonate with thoughtful voters — those promising free giveaways and cradle to grave government care are pipe dreams of panderers.

J. Karl Miller of Columbia retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He can be reached via e-mail at


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