Why you should care
If they talked about these issues, the world would look so very different.
Donald Trump’s right when he says he has set the agenda this primary season, raising issues that other candidates would not have, like refugee policy and immigration. On the blue side, Bernie Sanders could make a similar claim, thanks to his vociferousness on inequality and health care. The observation got me thinking about other sleeper issues — problems and controversies that haven’t received the attention they deserve this election — that would ideally shape debates in a meaningful way. So in addition to inequality, immigration, Iran, Russia, taxes and more taxes, here are four to consider:
1. Alzheimer’s: The Sleeping Giant
Among our country’s sleeping giants is Alzheimer’s. Most of us have glimpsed firsthand the destruction it can wreak on loved ones — or have at least seen it on television. The bad news? This giant is about to wake up, causing even more heartache and stress. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts that by 2050, some 15 million a year will be affected — about 5 percent of Americans — and the economic burden of the disease will quadruple to $1 trillion. What’s more, Alzheimer’s is a labor-intensive problem: Taking care of an elderly person who cannot remember her name or how and when to eat can require two adults over a 24-hour day.
So what can be done? Some of the most promising research is coming out of the Gladstone Institutes, an affiliate of UCSF and Harvard Medical School. Researchers are hopeful that new drugs can emerge. Still, we need more investment as well as a longer-term strategy. Hillary Clinton has put out a plan to do just that, but the recent death of Alzheimer’s fighter Nancy Reagan reminds us that historically Alzheimer’s is not a partisan issue. So will either nominee actually debate this seriously, make it a priority and commit real funding?
2. Stopping a Crime Wave
We know there are a lot of bad schools in America, but some are off-the-charts awful. Back in his first term, President Barack Obama cited data showing that just 2,000 high schools produced half the nation’s dropouts. Kids at these so-called dropout factories have about as good a chance of graduating as a coin toss has of yielding heads. And if they don’t graduate, they’re out of the running for most jobs, prone to poorer health and more likely to commit crimes.
True, we’ve made some progress. A 2015 report in conjunction with the White House Summit on Next-Generation High Schools found that the number of dropouts has declined from a million in 2008 to 750,000 in 2012. But that’s still too high; it means that more than 2,000 kids are dropping out each calendar day. The good news is that we know how to fix this: We have seen enough high-performing schools in various neighborhoods — especially ones from top-tier organizations like KIPP, the charter-school network — to know that there’s a better way. We must figure out how to bridge the gap between teacher unions and reformers in ways that help our kids; for our next president, that should be as high a priority as Iran and Syria.
3. Should We Offer First Class?
The Internet has been all it was advertised to be and more. It’s helped people move, find love, visit family, start businesses and be entertained. It has educated and inspired. And it has done so globally, even, in some countries, in the face of government censorship. But for the last decade, top policy makers and lobbyists have debated the question of whether to, in effect, create two Internets: one that is free, with perhaps fewer high-quality offerings, and one that costs more and comes with more amenities (loads faster, has better quality, etc). Few lay it out that clearly, but that is the conversation: ”Do you create economy class and first class on the Internet?”
Some say hell no, the Internet is one of the few levelers in an unequal society. Others say that differentiation is inevitable and that, indeed, the extra fees paid for access to an even better Internet would lead to trickle-down benefits for the rest of us. This may sound like a boring debate, one not worthy of a top presidential discussion — unless you believe that the Internet has the power to help the powerless compete, at least a little more than they used to. In 2007, President Obama pledged to stand by net neutrality if elected, and so far Clinton and Sanders have come out in support wholeheartedly, while Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have rejected the idea at one point or another. Right now, we don’t hear much because candidates are divided mostly by party lines, but I’d love to see this be a key debate in the general election.
4. Instability in Africa
Africa has lately been in the news as the site of economic renaissance — and, unfortunately, at times horrible disease, like Ebola. What’s overlooked? The next president will also likely have to deal with the growing challenge of radical Islam on the continent.
OZY columnist and former CIA director John McLaughlin has highlighted the extending ISIL influence that has led to lethal terrorist cells in Libya, Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria (four African countries where it has declared provinces). Moreover, attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso (some linked to al-Qaida), as well as the horrible work of Boko Haram in Nigeria, have already made clear that the continent, like the rest of the world, has a serious issue. If several key countries are effectively taken over or destabilized by radical Islam, that could set back the larger continent’s push for both democracy and economic growth. And that, in turn, could have a powerful effect on both the global economy and world stability. In an ideal world, what to do in this key region would be on the presidential-debate agenda.