During the presidential debates, President Obama and Mitt Romney successfully avoided (with an assist from the debate moderators) addressing several prominent issues, including climate change, gun control, drone strikes, poverty and the housing crisis.
While the candidates occasionally discussed these gravely important issues in an indirect way—Obama mentioned “folks who are striving to get into the middle class,” Mitt Romney paid homage to the poor by promising to make the social safety net “more efficient,” i.e., privatize it, and Obama paid his usual lip service to wind and solar energy—the candidates were largely able to skirt and parry actually confronting these issues in any meaningful way.
In fact, during the last debate on foreign policy, which on more than one occasion strayed into the domestic policy arena, the candidates agreed on several issues: Iran is the greatest threat ever known to the planet, drone strikes are necessary and tools for peace, the United States would back Israel if it were attacked and China is abusing trade. Afterwards, in discussing the last debate, MSNBC host Chris Hayes noted that there was very little substantive disagreement between the candidates.
And while Obama occasionally strayed into domestic territory and talked about rebuilding US infrastructure, missing from the debate was any real conversation about poverty and the ongoing housing crisis. The candidates prioritized the subjects in this fashion, even during the prior debates, despite the fact that in recent polls the economy and unemployment rank as the issues most important to Americans—not Iran’s “spinning uranium,” as Romney puts it.
ABC’s Jordan Fabian noted the conspicuous lack of discussion on the housing crisis, stating housing policy must be “less sexy” than Iran or the “47 percent.”
“It’s…a really complicated subject and neither candidate has a strong plan of how they would go forward, so they would prefer not to talk about it,” said Janis Bowdler, director of the Wealth Building Policy Project at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the nation’s largest Latino civil rights group.
NCLR recently sponsored an effort to drop off more than 30,000 postcards at the Obama and Romney campaign headquarters on Tuesday asking each to explain their housing plan. Part of the problem, however, is that popular support doesn’t have any impact on the debates themselves. Every minute detail of the questions and audience members is groomed, edited and censored by both campaign staffs to the point where there’s absolutely no chance of an audience member asking a tough, surprising question, protesters getting the ear of the candidates or anything else remotely interesting happening.
Meanwhile, the housing crisis is still very real and affecting millions of Americans. As ABC notes, Obama’s 2009 housing plan, which he said would “help between 7 and 9 million families restructure or refinance their mortgages so they can afford—avoid foreclosures,” actually fell dramatically short of that goal, only helping around 1 million homeowners receive permanent modifications on their mortgages, just one-quarter of those who applied for help.