Style Takes Bite Out of Campaign Issues 

Style Takes Bite Out of Campaign Issues 
Posted by FoM on October 23, 2000 at 10:30:40 PT
By Michael Hedges 
Source: Houston Chronicle 
 Last spring, with images of the Million Moms March against guns fresh in his mind, social activist Vincent Schiraldi was looking forward to the presidential campaign as a rousing referendum on crime, drugs and guns. Then an odd thing happened: silence. "Think about how big the issues like crime and drugs have been in past elections, and those issues have totally vanished," said Schiraldi, president of the Justice Policy Institute in Washington. 
"A year ago, what to do about guns dominated the national debate after the Columbine shootings. Now nobody is talking about guns but the NRA (National Rifle Association)," he said. To say issues like crime, drugs, immigration, trade, the death penalty and guns have vanished from the political debate may be an exaggeration, but they are not driving the presidential election the way they once did, experts agreed. One federal anti-drug official said, "I remember when the war on drugs was a key issue during elections, and now it is as if the problem we are spending billions of dollars to fight has disappeared." For some, the lack of a strident debate on issues such as drugs indicates a healthy acknowledgment that the nation is on the right track. "Both sides have recognized that our comprehensive strategy on drugs is the right approach," said Bob Weiner, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "The lack of debate means we're moving in the right direction." Others see the reluctance to engage the issues as more a combination of tactical political thinking and shortsightedness. "Neither candidate thought he could gain advantage by doing more than expressing the usual platitudes on issues like the death penalty and the war on drugs," said Houston lawyer Edward Mallett, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "The candidates lack the courage or vision to take these things on," Mallett said. "They are down to saying what they think swing voters in about five states want to hear." Immigration is another topic that has been relatively muted during the campaign, said Ben Ferro, a former top Immigration and Naturalization Service official who heads the consulting firm "It has not been a contentious issue in this campaign as it has in some recent ones," he said. Ferro thinks that is because it has become less clear how to make political capital out of the issue. For example, industries and labor unions that once battled over immigrants taking jobs now often welcome them as workers and union members. "Politicians can't measure what people want to hear on the issue, and if they can't measure it, they stay away from it," he said. Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's center for government studies, said the mantra of this election could be, "It's the good economy, stupid." "These are times of peace and prosperity, and they have been now for nine years in a row. What their research is telling the candidates is that when people start to take something for granted, they don't care about it," he said. That is one of the reasons Vice President Al Gore hasn't been able to exploit a booming economy as much as a sitting vice president would have in another time, Sabato said. "He realizes that the one-half of the population that votes probably understands that the Republican Congress had as much to do with the economy as the administration, and neither may have had much to do with it," Sabato said. Stu Rothenberg, a political analyst, said: "It is remarkable, but the economy doesn't seem to be an issue. People believe that no one is responsible, and they seem to think no one will screw it up." The public's acceptance of good times as almost an entitlement neuters the issue politically, he said. In the same way, falling crime rates, a sense that drug use is under control and a general sense of well-being has taken the potency out of gloom-and-doom issues. One way to look at the campaign is that quality of life is still what motivates voters and what politicians key on, Sabato said. But what that means has changed. "People that used to be concerned that their kids would be free from muggings or major-league drugs are now concerned that their kids' schools are good enough to get them into Princeton," he said. That's why this campaign has become largely about schools, retirement plans and health care, experts said. "People will always whine about something, and politicians need to find out what that is and soothe and stroke the voters," Sabato said. "The candidates decided from national polling and from anecdotal evidence what the issues were going to be," Rothenberg said. "What they heard people were concerned about were Social Security, prescription drugs and education. And so that is all we hear about." While crime is still a concern, "people read in the media that crime is falling, and the issue loses its strength," Rothenberg said. Ferro said: "From my perspective, this has not been a campaign about the big issues; it has become a campaign about personalities. Unless you are a single-issue voter on, say, abortion, you are going with the guy you like." Rothenberg agreed. "When the issues lose their bite, style becomes more important," he said. That may benefit Gov. George W. Bush. "That is why Bush is ahead," Rothenberg said last week, as most polls showed Bush gaining in what remains a tight race. "Once he crossed that threshold of competency, he was on his way. People are comfortable with him in a way they are not with Al Gore." Note: What became of crime, drugs, guns?Source: Houston Chronicle (TX) Author: Michael HedgesPublished: October 22, 2000Fax: (713) 220-3575 Address: Viewpoints Editor, P.O. Box 4260 Houston, Texas 77210-4260 Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau Contact: viewpoints Website: Forum: Related Articles & Web Site:Justice Policy Institute War Politics The War On Drugs: Just Say No More, Cash And Campaign 2000
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan on October 23, 2000 at 10:44:48 PT:
Lack of Debate!!!???!!!
So this clown thinks that there is no public debate on the drug war? It's time for the assembled masses to be in his face. His arrogance is appalling.
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