As election day approaches, Americans are hearing more and more about how fundamentally different the two candidates are. However, there are several issues that are not only being completely ignored, but will remain 100% the same regardless of who enters the White House next January. Here are five of the more pernicious ones. (Which ones did I miss? Write about them in the comment section below.)
1. Economic and Geographic Segregation between Black and White Americans: Over the past few decades, and particularly since the 2008 economic recession, the average wealth disparity of black households and white households has been steadily growing. In 2009, the average white household had about $113,149 in wealth (assets minus debt), while the average black household had only $5,677 — or about 5% as much. While in 2005, the average black household wealth was about 9% of the average white household — clearly indicating the gap is moving in the wrong direction.
Relatedly, geographic segregation is still a very widespread problem throughout the U.S. While it has been slowly decreasing over the past ten years, around 65% of Americans currently live in areas of high segregation. This means the average American lives in a neighborhood that "looks a lot like himself." What is more, references to institutionalized racial segregation are not tolerated amongst mainstream politicians. President Barack Obama faced much ridicule when in 2005 he spoke about the insidious segregation found in New Orleans.
2. Penal Policy and Widespread Incarceration: The penal policy in the U.S. has grown completely out of control. The U.S. ranks number one in the world for prisoners per 100,000 people, at 751. Russia is second with 627, and our NATO allies have much lower rates such as 151 for England and 88 for Germany. Up until the 1970s, the rate of incarceration in the U.S. was about 100, but recent increases in the length of incarcerations, especially in the 1980s, has made the number skyrocket. The U.S. is also one of the only industrialized countries that imprisons people for non-violent crimes.
Furthermore, the causal relationship between high incarceration rates and low crime is dubious at best. The drop in crime did not temporally coincide with the increase in prison sentences, and many states that have shorter prison terms also have a lower rate of crime.
3. War on Drugs: The War on Drugs, galvanized by President Nixon, has been one of the most devastating and ineffective domestic policies over the past several decades. At a huge cost to taxpayers, the Drug War has not been able to achieve measurable results, and instead has created a permanent underclass of American citizens without access to education, voting rights, or quality employment.
The entire paradigm of the War on Drugs, which criminalizes drug addiction rather than treat it as a public health issue is emblematic of the policy's failures. And until the program is completely revamped, those failures will continue.
4. Campaign Finance Regulations: Since the watershed Supreme Court decision, popularly known as Citizens United, that allows Super PACs to financially contribute to political campaigns, campaign finance regulation has been in the limelight much more than in years past. However, the 2010 decision was merely an exacerbation of an already virulent problem. All politicians, especially those at the federal level, spend a reprehensible amount of time pandering to corporate interests to raise campaign money. According to Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, members of Congress spend up to 60% of their time raising money from big businesses. That's three days out of the five day work week.
Most Americans agree that money buys results in Congress, but private campaign finance regulations are extremely lax, which shifts accountability away from the electorate towards the wealthy few who can afford immense contributions.
5. Drone Warfare: This is an issue that, while having received a fair amount of coverage, does not really seem to be questioned by any main stream politician. The normal arguments in favor of drone strikes on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen are essentially that they have been effective in crippling Al Qaida's leadership network, and this is true. However, the policy itself is completely unsustainable, since as soon as the strikes stop, hostile groups will immediately begin to build up once again. Obama has recently stated that strikes will continue for the next ten years, but the question of what will happen after those ten years remains.
This policy is the latest example of belligerent U.S. foreign policy in which we find a group of people we do not like, and rather than attempt any sort of reasoning, we just kill them and anyone around them. Suddenly every politician in this country is fine with preemptive warfare, which is explicitly outlawed in the Geneva Conventions, regulations wrote up and agreed upon in response to the Nazi takeover of much of Europe during World War II.