Don't Ask, Don't Tell: 11 Big Questions That Were MIA at the Presidential Debates - Rolling Stone
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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: 11 Big Questions That Were MIA at the Presidential Debates

The climate, abortion and more overlooked topics

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Mitt Romney and Barack Obama participate in the third and final Presidential Debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.

Marc Serota/Getty Images

The 2012 presidential debates were a national disgrace.

Forget that two of moderators were doddering old white men who allowed themselves to be steamrolled by Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. (You only have to be 35 to run for president, yet the average age of the moderators was somehow 72.)

The real scandal is that the moderators guided us through three contests without touching on many of the most critical issues confronting the American electorate.

Here, based on a review of the transcripts, the 11 biggest questions that never came up on the debate stage:

The candidates were never asked about climate change, whether they believe it poses an existential threat to our future, and what, if anything, they’d do halt it.

The root cause of the financial collapse of 2008 was the housing bubble. The foreclosure crisis remains a drag on our economy. Obama’s efforts to aid underwater homeowners have been feckless. Romney declared the market should be allowed to “hit bottom.” The moderators thought none of this worthy of discussion.

The European economy is in crisis. The common currency is in danger of collapse. Would the next American president intervene to save the Eurozone? Who knows?! Certainly not debate watchers.

The next president will pick at least one and perhaps two Supreme Court justices — but neither presidential candidate was asked anything about what principles would inform his choices for the court.

This election has been waged with ungodly sums of SuperPAC money, leaving both candidates beholden to megadonors. But neither candidate was asked to weigh in on the Citizens United decision that equates money with speech.

Gay marriage is on the ballot from Maryland to Washington state. It first became legal in Massachusetts (over Romney’s objections) and Obama made history by personally backing marriage equality. The Defense of Marriage Act is headed for a date with the Supreme Court. Yet there was not a single question about whether same sex-couples deserve equal protection.

Obama made an offhanded boast about its repeal, but there was no line of inquiry from the moderators about whether gays and lesbians would continue to be welcome in the Armed Forces under a Romney presidency.

There was no effort to clarify where each candidate stands on Roe v. Wade. (The subject of abortion surfaced briefly in the Vice Presidential debate, but as a personal issue — as a lens for the candidates’ Catholic faith.) A low information voter could have watched all three presidential debates and come away thinking there’s no meaningful difference on choice, beyond Mitt Romney’s plan to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding.

Ben Bernanke is the most powerful Federal Reserve chairman in living memory and has more direct influence over the unemployment rate than anyone. Romney has said he’d replace him. Why — and what kind of monetary policy he’d seek — remain open questions.

Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in three states. Tens of thousands of Mexicans have been killed in drug violence connected to American consumption, for which we continue to incarcerate an insane number of Americans. Yet there was not a single question about the efficacy of the 40-year, $1 trillion War on Drugs.

Mitt Romney’s tax returns have been a central campaign focus since the GOP primaries. They came up repeatedly in the Republican debates, yet didn’t pique the curiosity of the general-election moderators. (Get a detailed look at how Romney avoids paying his fair share.)


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