The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Jim Scofield

October 22, 2012

Jim Scofield | Some topics presidential candidates won’t debate

— There are important topics and questions the presidential debates won’t mention. Although the Democratic Affordable Care Act will be argued about, what can’t be discussed relevantly by our mainstream press and politicians is how much better are the single-payer and other national health care systems used in Europe, Asia and Canada.

“Most rich countries have longer life expectancies, lower infant mortality,” and higher life expectancies for 60-year-olds than the United States (author T.R. Reid’s “The Healing of America”).

The World Health Organization rates the United States at 37th in health results, grouped with many poor third-world countries. Yet we pay twice as much per person as these other advanced systems.

Nevertheless, no reporter or American politician dares to bring this bad comparison into the debates. It’s “American exceptionalism.” We are plainly better than all other countries, the facts notwithstanding.

“I will never apologize for the United States of America” is a favorite dodge of conservative politicians (see Mitt Romney’s book  “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness”). This means, of course, that we are denied understanding the real possibilities for our country, thanks to this implicit, unspoken agreement.

Our health care discussions often seem to be on another planet. Romney claims we don’t need any more health insurance: “You get care, and it’s paid for,” insurance or not. No mention of the estimated 18,000 to 45,000 Americans who die yearly for lack of insurance, or unaffordable medications and treatments.

Another forbidden topic: The candidates will contend with each other about who is most hostile to Iran. But no one will dare question why Iran is a threat to the United States or why we have a right to stop its nuclear bomb program, if Iran actually has one.

Here we are, making the same mistake that led us into the 2003 Iraq war, when our government claimed a right to attack that country because it might have such a bomb or other dangerous weapons.

It didn’t. And “no apologies” on this, either.

More importantly, why would we have the right to attack Iraq or Iran in the first place? It should be clear that neither country – about  7,000 miles away – has ever been a threat to us, and that other countries in that area have these weapons, principally Israel but also Pakistan.

We have more than 5,000 warheads ourselves. Despite this, we are preparing another war. A sorry mistake.

The ayatollahs may hate us, but Iranian youth identify with American culture. We have already used targeted assassinations and computer virus attacks against Iran, and have organized crippling sanctions. Wasn’t the Iraqi fiasco enough? Do we want another Middle Eastern war?

There are better ways to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. The United States and the other nuclear powers are supposed to be gradually decreasing their stock under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision. Of course, none of this will be in debates. Just the assumption that we have the right to attack this weak, third-world country.

Another important topic the debates avoid is the growing inequality in wealth and income in our country. Only the Occupy Wall Street movement has forced public attention on this. Don’t expect either candidate to mention it. The richest 1 percent, the ones the Occupy movement was protesting, has more than doubled its share of the national income in the past 40 years.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz states that even while “the middle class was being badly squeezed” because of the recession, “the top 1 percent managed to hang on to a huge piece of the national income – a fifth” (20 percent), over double what they had in the 1970s.

And the wealthiest 10 percent now receive 50 percent of the nation’s income (Economic Policy Institute). CEOs are earning 20 to 30 times what they did a few decades back.

Meanwhile, the median income of male workers stagnated during the same period. The minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, is behind the real dollar 1960’s rate, $10 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The poverty rate is up to 15 percent. Wages and benefits are being cut in many industries and in the public sector.

Both presidential candidates seem willing to consider or have proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, see the lower economic groups as moochers, not taking “responsibility for their lives.”

Economist Stiglitz believes that, though “those in the middle and bottom will pay the highest price, widely unequal societies do not function efficiently” because they fail to do what America did in the past – invest in education and other policies that make the economy grow.


Jim Scofield of Richland Township is an associate professor emeritus at Pitt-Johnstown.

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