If you rely on press coverage of the presidential race you probably think everything is fine in America. No foreign threats. No domestic crises. No budget or crime problems. Certainly nothing important enough to warrant discussing where the candidates stand.
Instead, we see stories telling us that Donald Trump apparently is crude like Bill Clinton. Not that journalists said much about the latter when he ran for office. Then it was a non-issue. But, of course, he’s a liberal, so personal imperfections didn’t matter.
Yet in 1992, when Clinton was elected, the real issues didn’t seem so important. America really did stand tall in the world. The Soviet Union had disappeared, Warsaw Pact had dissolved, and Iraq had been defeated. The U.S. was respected internationally and there was no deadly terrorist threat raging around the globe.
Government spent too much, but nothing compared to today. The red ink that we now take for granted would have set off panic in Washington. Business could only imagine the regulatory tsunami to come. Even liberals believed there might be a few areas of human life beyond Uncle Sam’s reach.
It makes it easier to understand how Americans voted for Clinton back then. He was a charmer and the decision didn’t seem so important. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
A lot, we found out. This time it’s critical for voters to focus on the issues.
Start with America’s international position. Both China and Russia are on the advance. Big countries with big ambitions. And they’ve been steadily gaining ground under the Obama administration, especially when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.
Then there are the “mini-mes,” North Korea and Iran. The first already has nuclear weapons, while the second likely will get them. Which anti-American dictator will be next to build the bomb?
Terrorism remains a persistent threat. Al-Qaeda survives, ISIS has spread from the Middle East to the West, and America has discovered more danger at home. Yet the only consistent reaction from officials like Clinton is to disarm law-abiding Americans.
Crime spikes in big cities, threatening the poorest and most vulnerable. Rather than speak on behalf of victims, the activist left threatens the effectiveness of the “thin blue wall” by blaming all cops for the misdeeds of a few.
The government’s takeover of American medicine is turning into the disaster predicted: Rising health care premiums and declining health care choices. American medicine is still great if you’re rich like the Clintons. But average folks face fines if they don’t buy overpriced policies mandated by Washington.
President Obama tried to take credit for bringing down the big deficits resulting from bailing out Wall Street and most everyone else after the financial crisis. But in 2016 the red ink started rising again. Without some fiscal responsibility in Washington annual deficits will again break the trillion dollar level within a decade.
Yet the true fiscal crisis created by all the baby-boomers retiring will be yet to come. America faces future debt to GDP ratios higher than during World War II. America will end up like Greece.
Federalizing education hasn’t helped graduates of inner city schools read their diplomas. Welfare spending has risen, paying people not to work. Saving the environment has come to mean destroying the economy. The president routinely ignores the law, acting like an emperor in treating his decrees as trumping Congress.
A country founded on the principle of religious liberty now punishes people for their most deeply held beliefs. The Supreme Court routinely rewrites rather than interprets the nation’s fundamental law.
Unfortunately, blame for these and so many more problems is widely shared. And it is bipartisan. Those who govern in Washington have far more in common with each other than with the people they claim to represent.
Many in the Republican establishment are ready, even eager, to deal with Hillary Clinton. They’d still prefer to have a GOP president—a pliable one, not one who causes anyone upset. But there isn’t that much that separates them from her in principle.
So the essential question this year is not who is the more congenial personality, but who is more likely to address the range of pressing issues facing America? Under whom are Americans likely to be safer? More prosperous? Better educated? Allowed to practice their faith?
And those are the questions to take into the voting booth. The presidential election is neither soap opera nor reality show, but serious business. We are choosing someone to act as steward for our hopes and dreams for not just our nation, but our local communities, families, and selves.
On November 8 we should vote accordingly.
Ken Blackwell is a Senior Fellow at both the American Civil Rights Union and the Family Research Council. He has served as an U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and as Mayor of Cincinnati.