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Lack of domestic issues and healthcare talk hamper NPR Democratic candidate debate

On December 4, NPR and Iowa Public Radio hosted a debate among the Democratic presidential candidates. (Read the transcript of the debate here.)

The debate was relatively civil, especially considering the amount of disagreement among candidates. I think the radio format worked well; without a live audience, candidates were more in discussion mode than performance mode and therefore I believe we got better information from them.

The focus of the debate was on Iran, Iraq, China, and immigration---all foreign policy issues.

This means they missed debating most of American voters' top issues, which center around issues that affect us on a daily basis.

A Pew Research Center poll in November ranked the top voter issues as (read full article at Kiplinger):

1. Economy (79%)

2. Health care (76%)

3. Iraq (76%)

4. Education (75%)

5. Jobs (71%).

"Energy is rising rapidly, from 54% in 2004 to 65% in 2007."

The candidates seemed familiar with this list, and proved that they are in touch with American voters' concerns when they answered the final question of the debate.

Moderator Steve Innskeep posed a last question from voter and citizen James Irwin:
Mr. JAMES IRWIN: What do you think the toughest choice you have left to make is?

The candidates answers varied, and (not to my surprise) centered on domestic issues:
MR. GRAVEL: . . .I don't have the answer to be able to persuade the American people that they are the solution, not their leaders. I wish I had the answer to convince them of that.

SEN. OBAMA: The issue of climate change.

SEN. DODD: I would say the single largest issue in many ways for us to grapple with is education. . .

SEN. BIDEN: . . .I think that the toughest choice for me, the thing I'm most unsure about, is how you rationalize competition and trade policy. I think that's the single most difficult challenge that I will have as president.

SEN. EDWARDS: I think we have an enormous struggle to try to restore the power in the country and the democracy back to the American people and take it away from big corporate interests, et cetera, who've taken over the democracy.

REP. KUCINICH: I wrestle with the question as to whether or not the president and the vice president should be held liable for crimes, for taking us into a war based on lies.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, I think that, you know, when you are running for president, you do your very best to try to anticipate what the problems are going to be. I think we have such serious issues when it comes to the economy. I think we're heading into some very turbulent waters on the economy. How are we going to balance what we need to do to perhaps stimulate our way out of some very difficult economic conditions — which are certainly being predicted now — at the same time, getting back to making sure we don't put the burden on the middle class. And I intend to have an economic policy that will get us through what I'm afraid we're going to inherit from the Bush administration.

Considering the top voter issues and candidates' answers for the final broadcast question, my winners for "hit the ball closest to the mark" (i.e., candidate's answer came closest to what voters identify as their most pressing issues) are:

1. Senator Clinton for hitting the big one---economy---in her answer.

2. Senator Dodd for hitting education.

3. Senator Obama for getting a walk with his answer (climate change) which came close to energy.

Honorable mention: Senator Biden for his answer, which tackled a specific topic in the economy.

Unfortunately not one candidate mentioned health care.

None of this is to say that foreign policy issues are not relevant. I do think we need to discuss the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, research Senator Clinton's claims that it has caused the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to "back down" and also investigate the intelligence and Bush Administration assertions that the amendment was necessary (haven't we been down this road once before? with bad results?)

(Sidebar---Two interesting opinion articles about the Kyl-Liberman Amendment are Fact Checker at the Washington Post and Huffington Post blogger Paul Jay.)

However, I believe overall the focus topics for the debates were a miss.

Note 1:
In reading more from Scott Horsley, there is an addendum to the debate that does discuss the economy. His article is a wealth of information and well worth checking out. (Click here to read it.) They did also discuss the safe import of toys from China in the debate. Horsley's article contains a link to a broadcast of that discussion.

Note 2: For information about a toy's safety, check out the Consumer Action Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Toys, at

I have emailed questions to the candidates, but have received no responses, including no invitation to Senator Clinton's local appearance. I did feel a little better to learn Paul Jay had been similarly slighted, but not really since I'd like someone at one of the campaigns to have the task of answering these sorts of questions, and I understand skipping small potatoes like me, but The Huffington Post is a broadly-read, well-regarded source, with a high likelihood of many voters who lean Democrat.

What of a Republican debate? NPR offered the same debate venue to Republican presidential candidates, but the leading contenders all declined. They claimed scheduling conflicts.

What issues are most important to you? Feel free to share your views and why your issues are important to you.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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"Unfortunately not one candidate mentioned health care."

Honestly? I would vote for the devil if s/he could promise and provide and push through some sort of viable plan for universal health coverage (small "u").

Health care costs are taking bigger percentage chunks out of income, even for those who are covered by "good" insurance plans. When people are stressed and struggling over staying healthy and their ability to afford even basic care, not much else is going to matter. Just as starving people don't think much beyond their hunger pangs and will begin to do desperate thing to get food, people who are in pain or who are watching family members lose everything in the face of medical concerns are not going to be the population needed to move other, bigger "out there" issues; sure, no one survives if the earth starts shaking us off due to global warming. But it's really difficult to care about that when your children are ill, or when you're in pain, or losing your life's savings due to illness.
I wonder why the Republicans were not interested in a radio debate?

I also wonder if Sen. Clinton is once bitten, twice shy on the whole healthcare thing...

Julie Pippert said…
Jozet, I ended up cutting a paragraph that cited a recent Consumer Report article about how so many Americans are not covered due to pre-existing conditions, some as banal as "hayfever allergy," and thus they and other uninsured or underinsured people are one illness away from financial devastation.

It was a good article. And yes, I read Consumer Reports.

It's what I do while at my in-laws.

We are close to socking away more percentage of income to healthcare than to mortgage! Our coverage misses so much we have a health savings account...we're trying to be more prepared.

And still we empty that thing every month!

So in short, AMEN...I am 100% with you and seriously, your story, Kyla's story just add to my resolve.

Now if a candidate just had some resolve...


Heidi, I believe that a large contingent of conservatives believe in this myth of "liberal media." If reports aren't Faux News skewed, but are, instead, fair and balanced and provide both side of the issue, the report is labeled "liberal bias."

If liberal means fair and balanced then by all mean, slap that label on me.

Candidates don't mention Pacifica---which IS skewed liberal, BIG TIME, and I don't think anyone would argue that---but they do regularly cite NPR, which surprises me every time.

I suspect the Republicans are still stinging a bit after the YouTube debate and are leery of accepting a debate with NPR, who many (I think) consider the jewel in the crown of liberal media.

This means they left that venue 100% to the Democrats...which also unfortunately seems to add to the image that NPR doesn't cover conservatives.

But who caused that? Not NPR.

Uhh cutting rambling self off now...
Gina Pintar said…
I am surprised you chose Hillary as the "winner" of this debate. I think this comment was a better one about the economy.

SEN. EDWARDS: I think we have an enormous struggle to try to restore the power in the country and the democracy back to the American people and take it away from big corporate interests, et cetera, who've taken over the democracy.

As First Lady, Hillary was so interested in the pharmaceutical companies profits that she single handedly with the "Before 2" campagain for vaccines, caused the autism epidemic. She is no friend of mine.
Julie Pippert said…
Oh I don't think she was the winner of the DEBATE (on the whole); I just think she got closest in the target shoot in her answer to the question of what is the most pressing issue, as per the poll.

I didn't include my opinion about who I liked best or whose answer I liked best. :)
Emily said…
FOr me? Just the environment. If we have no place to live, the rest does not matter.
Kyla said…
HEALTHCARE. But you knew that already. ;)

Based on those particular answers ONLY (not taking other stances they've given into account), I'd say Edwards answer was the most pleasing to me, because I think healthcare falls into that category of being controlled by corporations rather than people. It should not be.
Mary Alice said…
Healthcare is so important, as is the economy, and the environment.

But I think everyone glossed over the best comment there.

MR. GRAVEL:" . . .I don't have the answer to be able to persuade the American people that they are the solution, not their leaders. I wish I had the answer to convince them of that."

I don't know the answer either, Mr Gavel, but that is so true.

As soon as we stop driving so much, using so much energy, or purchase fuel effient cars, WE take control. As soon as we turn down our thermostats, turn off our lights and install solar panals. We take control. As soon as we ask our businesses to turn down the heat and put on sweaters. WE take control. WE drive the market. If we buy from American companies, WE bring manufacturing back to our own country. We vote with our we should put our money where our mouths are. Change is up to us.

The question isn’t what THEY are willing to do for us…but rather what are WE willing to do for ourselves and one another.
dharmamama said…
I vote for Mary Alice!

And I so agree with what John Edwards said, which goes hand-in-hand with what Mike Gravel said.

Did anyone mention affordable housing? That one's key to me. I may be a little sensitive to it, since so many sweet, affordable homes are being torn down in my neighborhood to make way for half-a-million dollar homes that sit empty, and in my work, I hear story after story of folks just needing safe, decent housing. And sometimes, the houses are there, but there's no funding to get people in them! We have owners who are trying to help by keeping their rent reasonable, people who need houses, but can't afford one if they want to eat as well, but no funding to make the two meet. So much stress could be alleviated if everyone could be assured of housing.
Lawyer Mama said…
I didn't hear the whole debate, but I *did* hear the question/answers about the economy, safe toys, and trade with China. That last one really hit on the economy a lot. Unfortunately, I don't think many of the questions were skewed towards domestic issues at all. You're definitely right that (at least from what I heard) they concentrated on foreign policy. Even the economy and safe toy issues really focused on foreign trade.

I was disappointed to not hear anything about health care too. Although Edwards did mention making sure that the foreign policy and economic decisions we make are good for American consumers and workers and not just corporations.
PunditMom said…
I only heard highlights of the debate. My guess is that the candidates stick to talking about topics, as much as possible, that have "easy" answers for them. With health care, there is no easy answer.

As for the Republicans, they refused to participate in some minority-sponsored debates, as well, because of "scheduling conflicts." Maybe they should say they're not going because of "fear of conflict."
Karen Jensen said…
What is the most important issue for me? Healthcare. I don't think the economy is going to get much better for the majority of Americans if we are not able to afford health care.
Julie Pippert said…
I declare Mary Alice the winner. :)

Great point. I did catch him saying that and yes, I glossed over it.

After some consideration, here's why: because (a) it's a topic in and of itself and (b) I'm afraid gravel and his message are in one ear and out the other because the deck is stacked against him. I'd say 85% of people have never even heard of him. And that too is a topic in and of itself.


Emily, I think that about health care...for the same reason. When I lost my health, I lost much of my will and strength too. Without proper health we can't make good progress.

But I see and buy into the exact same logic for environment.

Chicken and egg in a way.


Kyla, yes, I figured. And even commented before you got here. :) I think a lot of what Edwards had to say was good. Clinton sounds more and more like a Hawk and Junior Repub at times, which concerns me, and then she'll flip around and sound great. I don't know what to say about Obama, and Biden, in writing, sounds better than he does in person. It's tough.


Dharmamama, no, not per se that I recall. I think affordable housing falls under economy, as a more specific topic. I used to being better touch with this topic. I think you ought to blow a big horn about it. You can guest post at Political Voices of Women, too.


LM, yes, it disturbed me how the attention was so focused outward, as if FIRST, we have to establish control (world domination?) in foreign issues and THEN we can do domestic issues. I think that's backwards.


PM, HA! I had something along those lines written (both things you said) and deleted it. Glad you said it.


Professor J, I agree.
Almost all of your commenters agree that healthcare is where it's at.....why aren't the candidates making this a bigger issue? Or are they, and it's just not being reported in Europe?? And if so, is anyone proposing anything close to universal health care? I'm just curious...

Julie Pippert said…
Heidi, there's no news about it in Europe nor is there in the US and it's NOT a big talking point...sadly.

You aren't personally missing anything, it's just overall missing.

I think PunditMom has the right of the why. That's MHO too.

Senator Clinton used to be HUGE on health care. She's backed down, lacks the courage of her convictions by appearance IMHO. I suppose the rationale is back down and get elected and THEN do something about it, which is SOP for American politicians on both sides, I think.

This makes me feel the campaigns are disingenuous at times at best and misleading at times at worst.

I don't like hidden agendas.

The health care issue is the Big Pink Elephant in the US right now.


OTHERS..chime in and answer..use YOUR words. :)
Gina Pintar said…
Be careful of Hillary's healthcare agenda. Her initial plan had several areas outlining more vaccines without choice to you. Her plan removed lots of freedom of choice for the people. I think that is why she backed off it for now. She had that initial plan attacked. I am warry of any of her plans.
Lawyer Mama said…
Gina - No one can make us get vaccines we don't want or don't want our children to have. No matter the legislation. That would be a constitutional issue. One that is insurmountable. I'm not usually an HRC defender, but I'm afraid you were misinformed. Her plan does make health insurance mandatory for everyone.
Julie Pippert said…
LM, you are technically right, but then there's what happens, anyway.

My pediatrician had her nurse on a phone dialing CPS to report me as a negligent parent because I wanted to delay the chicken pox vaccine until I got more information about it.

She flat out said, "They'll listen to a doctor. And I'll say you're negligent. Abusive."

I'm sure EVENTUALLY (with time and expense) we'd have gotten it straightened out, but meanwhile, the doctor claimed she'd get my kid vaccinated completely while in state custody.

Can you imagine?

Accused of NEGLIGENCE and ABUSE by my own pediatrician? Lose custody of my daughter, who'd go to foster care since we had no family nearby?

Over a disagreement about a chicken pox vaccine?


There can be undue and unreasonable pressure.

I was so scared. I don't know who sobbed louder during that shot, me or my baby.

Yeah, I let them vaccinate her, to my everlasting regret. Now she has to get boosters every two years.

And only last month the school threatened to kick out Persistence because she was TWO MONTHS behind on a vaccination booster...which the MD delayed because she happened to be sick each time we scheduled it.

Shutting ranty self up now.

But it can be an ugly world out there if you at all deviate from the imposed and arbitrary vaccination schedule. And people do feel strongly about imposing a schedule and consequences.

That said, I admit total ignorance of HRC's plan for vaccination, if any exists.
Wow, Julie, that's crazy....I opted out of the chicken pox vaccine for B boy, and noone batted an eyelid (I did eventually give it to him when he didn't get pox before turning 7 -- but that's beside the point). I think you should report your doctor -- that's abuse of power!

And your school overreacted a bit, although I think they are probably mandated by law to ensure everyone's up-to-date.


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