Why haven't the candidates really talked about any social issues in the debates?

When I was watching the debates, I was expecting to hear some discussion about:

The second amendment
Marijuana and other drug policy
Religion and the teaching of “intelligent” design
Censorship and book banning

Where the fuck was this stuff? All they did was talk about the economy and foreign policy. That’s important but I also want to see these candidates debate issues that are social in nature.

It seems to me that the American voting public has the shortest attention span (hyperbole alert) of any electorate in history. That is why we are only focussed on 2 major issues that are affecting us RIGHT NOW (and about 3 dozen subsets of the same 2 issues). That is also why the election can swing from one candidate to the other in the course of a few short days. If it was really about substance and policy the public would be able to decide just by looking at records and reading proposals. Instead it’s a strange clusterfuck of bullshit, spin, who do you want to have a beer with, who do you “trust”, and other emotional rather than logical reasons. That’s also what’s brought us the last 8 year (thumbs up!)

I was thinking about this very issue 2 days ago, when I was listening to NPR with a guest on the program speaking about the Latino vote.

They had a couple of experts on, who both agreed that Obama was picking up more and more of the Latino vote.

But they also agreed that his campaign was trying to stay as far away from talking about it as possible (in ‘positive’ or ‘proactive’ terms w.r.t. immigration) for risk of alienating the union and blue-collar vote in traditional blue states. And a lot of the Latino callers hinted at the same thing in a sort of round-a-bout way.

I guess that makes sense. And I might extend the reasoning to the issues above, as well. In some ways it seems to be a nod to the ‘moderate’ voting bloc that both candidates need to win.

Don’t venture too far into ‘hot button’ or potentially gaffe-ridden issues that could alienate a decent-sized portion of your moderate votes and, for Obama at least, try and run out the clock.

That’s my hypothesis anyway.

Easy, because years ago these things were hot new topics, and people had strong opinions on them that made it easy to select the combination of voters you thought would win the election for you. Today, these subjects have been debated way past ad nauseum, and are no longer as clear cut. You’re going to end up stepping on toes no matter what side you take.

Take your selection of issues, for example. Each of these has a stereotypical “right” and “left” position. However, most voters are fairly flexible. You’ll have a gun nut that believes god’s showing up two days after the election, that doesn’t trust public education and thinks burning books is a nice way to spend their evening. On the other hand, if you take the other “right” position and come out strong against drugs, Mrs. Palin isn’t going to vote for anybody that wants to take away her ganja. :smiley:

On the flip side, the intellectual guy might be just the opposite. If you dodge the drug topic, because it’s so important to them, they see you as ducking the issues. If you pick a side, you get neither vote.

However, few people really get, or honestly, care that much about economic voodoo or the intricacies of foreign policy (Israel started out as an immigration issue, for example, a bit akin to the Mexican border issue popular today, not a religious or “gifting” issue it’s sold to us in schoolbooks today), so they’re safer topics, because few people really think about it, they just want to hear that something will work. The folks that really do get it understand that no candidate’s really going to have much of an effect (John McCain isn’t going to fix the economy single-handedly, despite his assurances), so even for them, it’s something of a non-issue.

But they’re safe topics and get a lot of hot air for exactly that reason. You promise things will be better if you’re elected, say some things that give some illusory support to that impression, and beg people to vote for you. Maybe you win, maybe not, but at least you stayed away from the minefield of things people really care about… :rolleyes:

If you asked most Americans if they’re more worried about the economy or marijuana legalization, the economy is going to win hands-down. The issues you mentioned draw passionate supporters, but they’re not make or break issues for most Americans. I think that people overestimate how important these social issues are, because some people are very, very vocal about them. I’m not going to vote for or against a candidate based on his/her stance on gun rights. It’s just not a huge issue for me. Our foreign policy, both military and diplomatic, is.

I don’t know, I think “the economy” is important to everybody, but it’s also out there, distant, hard to quantify. Getting run through the ringer because you want to relax and feel good after work hits home a bit more personally, and with the economy looking like 1929 right now, gun rights probably matter to more people. In an abstract way, this whole election hinges on these personal issues, and especially personal rights, despite the dearth of attention from candidates. When everything goes to hell, your rights are all that’s left to keep your quality of life, and they’ve been chewed up over the past few years by both sides of the political spectrum.

Dems don’t like Bush/Cheney policies, especially Cheney’s eagerness to militarize the country internally and externally. Repubs are terrified Obama’s going to let gays and terrorists take over. Some of us expect the worst from both parties. Those are the extreme views, but they’re still fundamentally personal/social/rights issues.

The economy will do what it wants, the politicians will meddle and not help any, and even if the economy collapses, at some point it will stabilize and begin anew. Either way, at the end of the day it’s about what the 40% of people that actually bother to vote think at a personal level. The economy was wonderful and great, higher than ever, but people were still struggling, losing jobs, getting shifted to lower paying jobs. The economy could be the pits, and many people will still do well. It’s not like we all share the same portion of the pie, so the economic issues are more about hope than any direct reality. That’s important, especially when the economy’s the focus, but frankly, most of the time it’s not. Neither is foreign policy.

Most of the time when you’re talking about political issues, it’s about fairness and personal views on social issues. And you don’t even think about it, or name politicians or platforms to frame your conversation, because you’re talking to your friends and family about life, not “POLITICS”. Social issues are just that, issues about society, about you. Just because once every four years politicians avoid the topic like the plague, doesn’t mean they don’t play an important role, they’re just more subtle because the politicians are dodging them.

Social issues are becoming the third rail of American politics. Neither side has anything to gain by debating them.

On the Obama side, he’s rather more socially conservative than many in his ‘base’ would like, being a religious person. For example, he opposes gay marriage. And yet, he has a few positions that will turn off independents and the right, such as his wide-open acceptance of any and all forms of abortion.

On the McCain/Palin side, McCain has never been a social warrior, and really neither has Palin. Both want to distance themselves from the Christian Right in terms of attracting independents, yet they desperately need the Christian right to win the election.

There are other factors. For example, neither side wants Roe V. Wade overturned. Oh, the Republicans will say they do, but if that happened they’d lose a wedge issue, and the states would have to starting fighting it out and that probably wouldn’t be good for Republicans as a national party.

I think if either side starts seriously attacking the other on social issues, it will hurt them in the polls. Especially this year, with all that’s going on in the world, people just don’t want to hear it.

Case in point, I oppose drug laws except with regard to acts that pose a clear and immediate danger to someone else, and it so happens that Senator Biden is regarded as one of the architects of the War On Drugs. I don’t like that about him, but otherwise like his politics in general, and am of the opinion that he turned out to be an excellent choice on Obama’s part.

There was only one VP debate, so it’s no wonder they didn’t address everyone’s pet issues. When the country is at war and in the midst of an economic crisis, those issues are likely to dominate. They did talk about education though. The first presidential debate was intended to focus on foreign policy and security. A significant portion of it was taken up by the discussion of the bailout bill simply because that was the biggest political story at the time.

The VP debate included questions about same-sex couples.

The next presidential debate is open to all topics, while the third one is to be devoted to the economy and social issues. (Cite: http://www.debates.org/pages/news_092108.html.)

Again on the issue of drugs, I think the debate among average citizens comes down to hairsplitting because the opposing positions may not be as far apart as we might think. Does everyone who is against drug liberalization think that all illicit users should go to jail? Probably not. Does every drug liberationist think that recreational drug use is appropriate for all drugs, all people, and all circumstances? Again, no. So whatever debate there is comes down to matters of degree. But keep in mind I’m not talking here about extreme liberationists, or professional drug warriors.

Well, let’s go down the list–second amendment is pretty much a non-starter. Presidents can’t do much of anything with it anyway, it’s a Supreme Court issue, so why make it a big deal? Big cities are going to have gun bans, that’s pretty much a given. Any place where you can fire off a round and have a good chance of it getting into someone else’s house you’re going to find restrictions on guns. Deal.

Drug policy–big hairy mess. Nobody’s really in favor of keeping pot criminalized but nobody wants to fall on the grenade either, politically speaking. Again, better left to local governments to establish local standards of enforcement based on popular votes in the community, and maybe tip a word into the DEA’s ear that their funding will be cut for every marijuana dispensary they bust in California–done deal. Personally, I think CA, OR and WA need to just say fuggit, go for a Vancouver BC approach and make huge bank on marijuana tourism from folks who can’t afford to go to Amsterdam and/or who don’t have a passport. After the first year’s budget surplus a whole lot of other states might just decide the killer weed isn’t worth wasting time and money chasing. Then we make similar decisions regarding the rest of the pharmacopia of the streets.

ID and education–does anybody really think that espousing ID in a debate is going to help their chances? The vast majority of Americans know that ID is a crock of shit and even those who espouse it would probably prefer to contain it to Sunday school in order to avoid the inevitable heated argument that’s likely to follow pulling that nonsense out in a mixed classroom. As for education in general, Obama has been quite upfront and vocal about the fact that he considers revamping our educational system to be of paramount importance and has stump speeched on the subject extensively. Again, who’s going to take the other side of the debate and say “Education? Fuckit!” Debate non-starter.

Censorship and book banning–again, who in hell would take the other side? As much as people might privately think that a whole range of literature ought to just disappear from the shelves, and might have some success getting those books out of a local library but making something happen on a national level? Never gonna happen–even yahoos and yokels know enough to realize that “first amendment” still has a couple teeth left.

Ditto that. The moderator of the debates decides the questions, not the candidates (although Palin did a good job of making points unrelated to the actual question). Since there are a few debates, they are being broken up into different topics. The first was national security / defense, although for some reason the moderator decided that the fiscal crisis falls under national security :slight_smile: For the VP one, there was only so much time, and the moderator wanted to focus on the more hot button issues for VP. She did ask about same sex marriages though.

I agree mostly with SmarAleq, except for the point about education. There is absolutely room for debate there. In the past 8 years (or maybe even before that, I only started paying attention to politics 8 years ago) conservatives have argued for some sort of privatization of schools. I’ve even seen a friend of mine refer to it as “letting the market provide the best education.” McCain once supported abolishing the Education department, and now he supports “giving parents a choice” which is code for school vouchers–an idea that’s been slapped down again and again. It couldn’t even gain any traction last year in blood red Utah. For the vast majority of people, the concept of basically removing public education and replacing it with “vouchers” and private schools has proven to be a complete non-starter.

Many issues in National Elections are glossed over. Firstly, because “officially”, both parties agree, but those who support certain issues know who has their heart into it more fully than the other party.

In other words, without going out on a limb, you can probably be assured that Obama is not going to spend every waking hour trying to get a Constitutional Amendment banning Gay marriage, while McCain just might, even though both have supposedly the same position on the subject. I am Gay, and understand this is most certainly NOT the time for this to become a one-issue deal breaker. Hell, even Schwarzenegger has said he is not supporting the current proposition on the California ballot to ban Gay marriage, and he is a Republican. Still, during his last election, he was strongly opposed to Gay marriage.

The same with immigration. Oddly, both Obama and McCain pretty much agree with each other, and myself, about giving the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in the US a legal pathway to citizenship, with some valid stipulations. Considering they both pretty much agree, it is in neither of their interests to bring up the subject at this point in time…it would only alienate certain people.

So yes, there is some avoidance of certain topics, but it doesn’t take a major in Political Science to figure out which party will be more, uh, receptive to certain social changes to existing laws. They might not be “for” it, but that doesn’t mean they will fight adamantly “against” it either.

Wimps? Maybe. But for the time being, I think it is far more important to discuss major issues like the Iraq War, the Economy, Health Care, etc. Let’s worry about other issues a bit later?

Okay, that’s something I’d kind of forgotten about–that whole voucher thing is deregulation for the educational system and it sucks hairy donkey balls. The whole point of a national school system is to make sure that all our kids are getting a minimum standard education, not some off brand Balkanized voucher school excuse for a education.

The No Child Left Behind Act needs to go bye bye as well, it’s a huge crock of shit that’s done more to dumb down and castrate the actual teaching of children than any amount of ID could possibly do.

So yeah, we could be having more of a debate on education, but I still say if that’s a big issue for you, Obama’s your guy all the way!

I think a lot of this stuff gets ignored because it’s just assumed that the two parties and candidates disagree, so there’s nothing exciting about the debate. While there are some important issues, this may be a good change after years of the purported culture war.

Not right now it isn’t. Job losses and unemployment are up and the fluctuations in the stock market affect people pretty directly in terms of retirement plans, savings and the ability to borrow, and then there’s the minor issue of keeping their homes. You’re probably right that most people don’t get worked up about overall economic growth on its own terms, but they can see some of these problems hitting them at home.

I disagree.

Bush almost certainly won (inasmuch as it added just enough to get him over the top in the last election) by making gay marriage a central issue in 2004. Inexplicably this was played up enough and people cared enough to edge out Kerry.

I think people “care” about these issues when everything else is marginally ok. While the economy was not exactly good in 2004 it was ok enough. In 2000 the economy was doing very nicely. Enter in the culture issues…get sex maniacs out of the Oval Office and so on. With nothing else to really bitch about people went for culture war issues.

When things are shit, like now, all that goes out the window. People simply will not line up to hear a candidate pound the podium over the evils of gay marriage or marijuana legalization or what have you. They WANT to hear about the economy and their job and their retirement savings and so on. The rest simply is not on the radar for them and a candidate will likely lose people if they are seen to focus on what many now consider irrelevancies (which is not to say they are necessarily unimportant issues…just not important when you are wondering if you are going to lose your house).

I’m pretty sure that Obama has supported vouchers as well.

I think he is sort of for them. Generally he has not gone in for vouchers since the Teacher’s Union hates them and they are a strong player that a candidate does not want to wholly piss off. Last I remember Obama said something to the effect that he would not reject the idea of vouchers out of hand and if they could be shown to be the best solution he would consider them.

Call him on the fence on this one trying to pander to both sides at the same time.

I’m not sure why you expected these things to be debated, other than education, in the debates so far.

The first Presidential debate was supposed to be all about foreign policy, until the Big Bailout Crisis intervened. So it was about the economy and foreign policy.

Education came up during the veep debate, as did same-sex marriage and civil unions, which are hot-button social issues, even if they’re not on your list. (Palin, much to her credit, supported civil unions and more money for teachers.)

But as SmartAleq did, let’s look at the other issues. The Second Amendment is a nonissue these days: while there are differences between the parties, the Democratic Party has pretty much thrown in the towel on fighting for its stated positions, to the extent that they differ from the GOP positions.

Neither party wants to take the lead in decriminalizing marijuana, let alone hard drugs.

Intelligent design is a partisan issue, but if McCain has taken a position in favor of ‘teaching the controversy’ or some such, I’ve missed it. If that’s the state of affairs, then it’s not a point of contention between Obama and McCain. And while it would have made sense to see it in the veep debate, they had to cover a lot of ground in 90 minutes; stuff gets squeezed out.

Education - they talked about it.

Censorship and book banning - one of Palin’s many minor scandals. They didn’t even get to Troopergate in the veep debate, and this was a much, much smaller scandal. But again, it’s not a point of contention between Obama and McCain, so it won’t come up in the Presidential debate.