Public policy largely has been a non-starter in the general election campaign. The press never covered issues terribly well, but this year the media has been completely flummoxed by a Republican candidate who constantly spouts outlandish falsehoods. Even if the media declares them "pants on fire" false, large blocks of time and space go into the debunking.
Consider last Friday. In one news cycle, the Republican candidate finally admitted that the president was born in this country, charged falsely that Hillary Clinton had started the "birther" controversy and wondered aloud what would happen if her Secret Service detail were to disarm. In the media storm that followed, it was hard to find mention of his proposal from the day before to eliminate the "FDA Police" — you know, those dastardly villains who keep our food supply safe.
Call us naïve, but we still hold out hope that voters might care about the pressing problems facing the next president, whoever (gulp) that may be. In the next six weeks, we will look at some of them. One that demonstrates most starkly the difference between the two contenders is the makeup of the Supreme Court.
Rarely has the effect of the power to nominate justices been so clearly on display. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February and the 4-4 conservative-liberal deadlock it created made a critical difference in a number of cases — and in the future of the nation. Without Scalia to cast a deciding vote, public sector unions escaped the effects of legislation that would have crippled them (and, eventually, private unions as well) by depriving them of the power to charge fees to non-union members for collective bargaining activities. Texas abortion clinics did not have to adopt regulations that would have closed down most of them. An affirmative action policy was left in place. A 4-4 deadlock meant a racist North Carolina voter ID law was blocked.
President Obama's executive action ordering that five million undocumented workers be given the opportunity to stay in the country was blocked. It would have gone into effect if Obama's nominee to replace Scalia — Judge Merrick Garland, whom the Republican-controlled Senate has unconscionably refused to give a hearing — had been confirmed.
Early last week, there were denials all around of a story in the Huffington Post that quoted unnamed sources saying that billionaire Peter Thiel, the ultra-conservative PayPal founder and admirer of lunatic author Ayn Rand, who has questioned the prudence of allowing women to vote, was favored for a spot on the Court by the Republican candidate. Given that, on multiple occasions, the candidate has denied saying things when there was proof he said them, who knows? But the Republican's already-released "short list" of potential nominees, a rogues' gallery of radically conservative ideologues, illustrates what he wants the Court to look like.
A Democratic president would have the potential to not only stop further Court actions to decimate campaign finance laws, hobble voting rights, severely limit the power to reasonably control guns, abet police overreach and eliminate reproductive rights. Instead, she could begin the reversal of that trend. A Republican president would mean full speed ahead. If ever there were a single issue to vote on, this is it.