This should be a big election about big issues. The greatest financial crisis since the Depression. Soaring global debt. Collapsing public infrastructure. A broken health care system. Gilded Age inequality. Two disastrous occupations and a failing “war on terror.” Yet, until Wall Street imploded this weekend, it seemed as if no one could move the 24/7 mainstream media beyond the trivial. Tired of talking about swine and lipstick, moose and baby bumps? We are.

That’s why The Nation‘s lead editorial this week calls for an end to gotcha journalism and the politics of distraction and diversion. It’s time to say, Enough! Let’s refocus this election on what’s truly at stake. To that end, we’re laying out a series of questions in the magazine and at that we believe should be asked of both candidates–not only in the upcoming debates, the first of which takes place just one week from this Friday–but by a mainstream media that seems, well, “hell-bent” on reporting on the election as if it’s a new hit reality show.

Here are some of the questions we’d like to see asked of the candidates:

• The business-financial establishment and leading corporate-financed think tanks are leading a major lobbying campaign to cut people’s benefits from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Will you promise to oppose these efforts?

• The United States is hemorrhaging debt from its trade deficits – $700 billion a year – what is your plan to stop the bleeding?

• We’re losing jobs at an increasing rate. States and cities are gearing up for deep cuts in construction, schools, and health care. The Federal Reserve has committed over $500 billion to backstop banks and investment houses, and the Treasury has just guaranteed 5 trillion in loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. What is your plan to help kick start the real economy?

• Do you agree with Defense Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs, who insist that the Pentagon budget must grow?

• Why would you promote NATO expansion as a security building policy considering that had Georgia been a member of NATO when it launched its attack on Southern Ossetia, under the Treaty’s Article Five guarantee the US would now be at war with Russia?

• The US has the highest childhood poverty rate of any industrialized nation with 20 percent of children under age 6 living in poor families, costing about $500 billion dollars per year to the US economy, or 4 percent of GDP. What is your plan to reduce childhood poverty during your administration?

• According to the New York Times, in 1995 Senator McCain promoted a moratorium on federal regulations of all kinds, saying that excessive regulations were “destroying the American family, the American dream.” Does the Senator still feel that way? And what kind of regulatory architecture is needed to prevent the fraudulent gimmicks that led to our current financial crisis?

The Nation is not alone in seeking a real debate about the big issues at stake this year. Today the Institute for America’s Future (IAF) launches a seven-week ad series in the New York Times, encouraging Americans to demand a real debate focused on “seven national crises that won’t wait.” The first ad concerns the American Dream–how it is increasingly unattainable for more and more families. Other ads in the series will focus on our global debt and financial crises, health care system, public infrastructure, global warming, increasing Robber Baron corruption, the endless occupation of Iraq and the “war on terror.”

“These issues are simply too important to be lost in the media frenzy and amid political distractions,” said IAF’s co-director Robert Borosage. “It is time to shelve the gotcha politics and the horse-race journalism of the past. We’re urging the candidates to confront the major challenges facing our country and use the debates to focus on them.” Americans, Borosage says, “deserve a debate worthy of a great nation in trouble.”

The IAF also plans to launch an online petition challenging debate moderators to focus on the big issues. Today’s ad is running on the Times op-ed page. You can check out the first two ads of the campaign here.

UPDATE: It’s good to see readers offering questions for the candidates.  Here are some that you have posted so far:

• Why do you think it is necessary to spend so many US tax dollars on the Pentagon, Department of Defense and on other nations’ defense systems while people in this country are denied medical care, proper education, and care for our senior citizens?

• Why can’t the US spend more of our hard-earned tax dollars on infrastructure used by American citizens?

• What is your plan to resolve the Iraq war disaster?

• Will the US require signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a condition for allowing US-based nuclear power and materials corporations to do business with foreign countries interested in developing nuclear capabilities?

• Will you wield the same level of “executive privilege” as President Bush and Vice President Cheney?

•Will you give back to Congress the power to do its job?

Please keep the questions coming–we will feature them in a future post!