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First Debate: Focus On Economy, Healthcare Obscured Social Issues, Civil Liberties

Katrina Kaiser |
October 3, 2012 | 9:49 p.m. PDT


Rally to support Planned Parenthood in St. Paul, MN (Fibonacci Blue, Creative Commons)
Rally to support Planned Parenthood in St. Paul, MN (Fibonacci Blue, Creative Commons)
Tonight’s first presidential debate was supposed to cover the subject of “domestic policy,” but the candidates left many important subsets of topics such as employment and healthcare completely unanswered. This is a brief look at a few of them:


Women’s Health

While both candidates discussed healthcare at length, the debate centered on changes to Medicare and the differences between ObamaCare and RomneyCare. Romney in particular spent a lot of time emphasizing that any potential policies of his would not change the assistance that current or soon-to-be retirees would receive from Medicare. However, Obama failed to match Romney’s strategy of focusing on a narrow healthcare demographic. Even as CNN’s graph charting the interest of local undecided voters by gender showed that female interest spiked during the healthcare discussion, Obama did not capitalize on his well-established lead among female voters.

Besides the fact that this could have been an easy cheap shot for Obama in an otherwise weak debate performance, protection of women’s rights—including a right to health—should not be sublimated to conflict on overarching theories of government. Indeed, women’s health is one of those topics where such theories become terrifyingly concrete, especially in a world in which ending federal Planned Parenthood subsidies is considered a mainstream policy idea, congressmen are able to discuss the rape of American citizens casually and ignorantly with little consequence for their campaigns, and new presidential appointments to the Supreme Court might reverse the American woman’s freedom to end an unwanted pregnancy.


LGBTQ Issues

It is becoming increasingly clear that the freedom of non-heterosexual Americans to pursue life, liberty and happiness is becoming the next frontier of civil rights movements. During tonight’s debate, there was no discussion of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the military, state versus federal recognition of marriage for LGBTQ couples, or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. While the candidates discussed federal involvement in public education at length, shortfalls in state policy such as Romney’s anti-bullying policies as governor of Massachusetts were off the table. The lack of debate on LGBTQ issues might be due to the incredible policy gap between Obama and Romney, which renders extra national discussion of the topic superfluous. Voters who prioritize public equality for non-heterosexual Americans are likely to already have made their choice.


Civil Liberties

Part of the context missing from tonight’s discussion of Wall Street, predatory bank loans, and income inequality was the public backlash in the form of Occupy Wall Street. And while political commentators have been quick to point out how the memetic quality of today’s “47 percent” tag is rooted in “we are the 99 percent,” it is a shame that the violent confrontations between often-peaceful protestors and police in a nation designed to protect free political expression have faded from public consciousness. The protests were also the impetus for an incredible expansion of the domestic security state—one that trampled on traditional “liberal” conceptions of political freedom and personal privacy. This happened not only in the overt forms of Obama’s extension of the Patriot Act and other forms of warrantless wiretapping, or in the National Defense Authorization Act’s indefinite detention provision, but also in more covert policies such as the Stop Online Piracy and Protect IP Acts, which would have allowed the federal government to seize information stored online and censor entire domain names in the name of fighting potential copyright infringement. The silence over online privacy and free expression, unlike the silence on identity politics issues, may be partly because Obama and Romney do not differ that much from each other regarding the power of the state to monitor its citizens, and the debate topics are designed to provoke as much disagreement between the candidates as possible.


Reach Contributor Katrina Kaiser here; follow her here.



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