Sarah Palin's hunting skills are marvelous. Joe Biden's mom is a hoot. John McCain's wisecracks are hilarious and Barack Obama's three-point shot is deadly. So stipulated.
Also stipulated: Palin may have over-reacted to in-law troubles. Biden was at times too free in borrowing others' words and ideas. McCain's real estate portfolio is impressive, and Obama's former pastor is a kook.
We are under no illusions: In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, hyper-partisan bloggers and talk radio, attack ads, tabloid newspapers, trash television and the blurred line between news and entertainment, stories like these are going to dominate the next two months.
But the issues facing this country are too serious and the presidential election too important to get lost in trivia and gotcha stories. Here are some of the issues and questions that must be addressed by the McCain-Palin and Obama-Biden campaigns before Nov. 4:
Your health care plan calls for taxing employer-provided health insurance worth more than a certain amount. That would amount to an enormous tax hike on millions of middle-class voters who get insurance through their jobs. It also would weaken, perhaps fatally, the existing system of employer-provided health insurance that covers most Americans. Why do you think this would increase access to health insurance?
You have called for making permanent all of President George W. Bush's tax cuts, now set to expire at the end of 2010. Economists say this would reduce federal tax revenue by more than $5 trillion over 10 years. On a yearly basis, that's about a fifth of everything the government spends outside of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, defense and interest on the national debt. Since all of those fixed costs will be going up, too, where's the money going to come from to pay for things like the FBI, air traffic control, Homeland Security and education?
As you know, there is a debate within the Pentagon over whether the United States should focus on counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism warfare or rebuild its strategic arsenal for major conflict. Given the need to rebuild and resupply the Army after the devastation of Iraq, where should the focus of military be directed?
From 2000 to 2003, when you were mayor of Wasilla, your town received $11.9 million in federal earmarked funds. As Alaska governor, this year you wrote, "The federal budget, in its various manifestations, is incredibly important to us, and congressional earmarks are one aspect of this relationship." Have you had a change of heart?
You have touted your "comprehensive energy plan" that you claim will create 5 million new jobs over the next 10 years by "catalyzing private efforts to build a clean-energy future." That is 10 times more workers than currently employed in the U.S. automotive industry. Where will those 5 million new workers be working and at what kind of salaries?
Health insurance premiums increased by 78 percent between 2001 and 2007. Even as the number of people covered by private health insurance decreased slightly, insurance company overhead soared. Why do you think insurance companies could play a productive role in solving the nation's health care crisis?
In your eight years in the Illinois Senate, you maintained excellent relations with Democratic power brokers from Chicago, including U.S. Rep. (and now Gov.) Rod Blagojevich, Mayor Richard Daley, state Sen. Emil Jones and Tony Rezko, a businessman and fundraiser who has been convicted of bribery and corruption. Have you ever spoken out about Illinois' culture of political corruption?
You supported the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act which passed Congress in 2005, making it harder for individuals to get out from under their credit card debt. Because many credit card companies operate in your home state, you were under great political pressure from them. But you also have said you think the bill was a good idea. Do you still believe that, or would you support revisiting federal bankruptcy laws?
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