Which candidates will emerge as the parties' presidential nominees and who will ultimately prevail in the November 8, 2008 general election?  The candidates bring their personal and leadership qualities and experience to the race.  The extended and costly election process helps winnow the field.  And, in each election there is also a particular mix of issues facing the country.  Is the economy doing well?  Is the nation at war?  Are our neighborhoods safe?  Some candidates may be, or appear to voters to be, better suited to address the set of challenges than others.  For example, many observers believe that in 2004 the ongoing war in Iraq likely helped President George W. Bush win re-election, while his opponent Sen. John Kerry's inability to articulate a clear position on the war undercut his campaign.  Similarly the first President Bush seemed stymied in his handling of the domestic economy, while then Gov. Bill Clinton ran on the premise that, "It's the economy, stupid."

In fact "issues" can not be placed neatly into boxes; they are interconnected, complex, amorphous.  New permutations arise without warning.  Conflicting facts and statistics abound.  Different constituencies press in various directions.  There may be many valid or plausible approaches to addressing a specific problem.  At the same time, for many problems there are no simple solutions.  Resources are limited.  It may be easier simply to ignore a problem, to offer a sound bite, or to mobilize support for a quick fix, rather than addressing the situation head on.  A solution may itself have uninintended consequences.

The federal government cannot solve all problems; indeed the Constitution sets out a limited role for the federal government.  Progress depends as well on state and local governments, businesses, civic groups, religious institutions, and most importantly committed citizens working to improve the community and the country.  Indeed many problems are best handled at the local level, but the people who are most familiar with the situation.  Conversely, with globalization, issues increasingly cross national borders, necessitating cooperation among governments of different nations.

The expertise, experiences, and philosophy of the various candidates determine how they frame the challenges facing the country.  Interest groups will seek to interject their particular issues into the debate, which is as it should be.  For news organizations operating in a pop culture world, providing interesting and enlightening coverage of issues is a very difficult and challenging but essential task.  Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of citizens to see to it that their concerns are addressed.  It behooves voters to get beyond the rhetoric and soundbites or the relative likability of one candidate or another and consider the merits of the ideas the candidates are advancing.

The United States faces plenty of issues, big issues, with profound consequences on our quality of life.  For starters here are resources on eight issues likely to play an important role in 2008:

Culture and Society
Defense and National Security
The Economy
Health Care
International Relations
"Politics is Broken"

'08 PROSPECTS...Starting Points
The United States faces myriad complicated and interrelated challenges.  How do candidates reduce this big set of challenges into manageable issue areas?  One can learn much from how a candidate frames "the issues," including the areas they choose not address.  Candidate websites provide unlimited space for a candidates to lay out their positions in minute detail.  How well do they make us of the space?  Do they outline their records and specific programs and proposals, or do they resort to rhetoric and glittering generalities?  Is the issue section just a straight list, or is there an effort to provide a degree of interactivity, for example through video clips or printable pages or even a more creative approach?  Does anyone even read the issue sections, or are voters more interested in a candidate's character and persona?      5/26/07
Republicans  |  Democrats

Brookings Institution: Opportunity '08

Project Vote Smart
   Nov. 15, 2007 press release

On the Issues
Copyright © 2005, 2006  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action