What candidates should be talking about during the 2018 midterms

What candidates should be talking about during the 2018 midterms
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As we begin the primary season for this year’s midterm elections, we hope that political parties, candidates and interest groups will start to take a long-range view on what is good for our country and our future. Doing so requires developing a coherent agenda that addresses the compelling issues that face the United States. We contend that there are five major problems or issues that need to be addressed and resolved. This year’s midterm campaigns provide us with an excellent opportunity to discuss those problems, outline possible solutions, and prepare the groundwork for action in the years to come.

First, we need to address the fundamental issue of a decline in our democratic practices and a lack of faith in our social and political institutions. Renewing democracy and restoring institutions requires that Americans take steps to reinforce democratic norms. People running for office can take the lead by looking for common ground and shared values.

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By emphasizing mutual responsibilities and buttressing core institutions, they can avoid reinforcing artificial divisions of party, nationality, or culture. On a substantive level, they could promote the establishment of a governmental bipartisan commission that would develop evidence-based recommendations for reviving a healthy civic life, seeking common ground, and restoring faith in our societal institutions.

 

Second, we need to invest more in our children and families. Much scientific evidence shows that investing in quality programs can not only help young people develop in healthy ways, but they can also greatly reduce future costs in educational remediation, criminal justice rehabilitation, mental health therapy, social welfare and the like.

As Anthony Biglan, one author of a 2009 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine stated, there are “several tested and effective programs, policies, and practices for the prenatal period through adolescence to prevent development of the most common and costly problems of youth, including academic failure, delinquency, depression, pregnancy, and alcohol and drug use. If a national initiative ensues that promotes acceptance and implementation of these effective interventions, virtually every citizen will benefit.”

Third, we need to deal with climate change in a strong and united way. Each year, we see the effects of the continued rise in global temperatures — extreme weather phenomena, shrinking sea ice, rising sea levels, and so on. All major relevant scientific bodies have concluded that this problem has pervasive repercussions for people in the United States and globally.

Even those doubting climate change and its human origin could acknowledge the need to take action given the severity of the consequences if they are wrong. And certainly any possible negative effects on the economy can be considered when evaluating the concrete responses for dealing with climate change proposed by various scientific bodies. Indeed, candidates and voters should be talking about what can be done to address a range of environmental, economic and national security concerns about the issue.

Fourth, we need to reform and make fairer our juvenile and criminal justice system (apprehension, investigations/adjudication and punishment). A 2016 report from the Office of the President noted that “our criminal justice system incarcerates 2.2 million people, costs taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars each year, and imposes substantial indirect consequences on justice system-involved individuals, their families, and communities.

These consequences can include not only negative impacts on employment, but also health, debt, transportation, housing  and food security.” There is bipartisan support for reform, and there exist many interventions that can solve social problems with significant cost savings.

Finally, we need to reduce violence and prejudice against our fellow citizens. We include everything from discriminatory practices and actions involving harassment and assault, to outright hatred toward other people’s religions, ethnicities, nationalities, gender identities — even political persuasions. Prejudice and violence eat away at the fabric of our society by increasing people’s feelings of vulnerability and exclusion.

Moreover, devaluing the contributions of different populations will only deprive us of the necessary talent and innovative thinking that we require to address all the challenges we face. Though there is some relevant research to build upon, overcoming such problems will require systematic and coordinated efforts, locally and nationally.

We hope that candidates, parties and voters will be intentional about discussing these concerns during the midterm campaigns. If we instead focus on more isolated or immediate issues, these longstanding problems eventually will undermine our political processes and our future well-being.

Neil Wollman is a Senior Fellow at Bentley University and has done research and commentary on political issues for many years.

Leonard Williams is professor of political science and dean of the College of Education and Social Sciences at Manchester University in Indiana. He researches political theory and American politics, and is the author of “American Liberalism and Ideological Change.”