Podium: As elections near, time to focus on what matters

Every once in a while it occurs to me that we’re fiddlin’ while Rome burns.

At least, that was my reaction when I heard Hillary Clinton had been summoned yet again to testify in Congress about Benghazi and report one more time on what she knew or didn’t know or should have known or should have done or might have done. Call me cynical, but I wonder whether this would be dragging on year after year, hearing after hearing, if Mrs. Clinton were not a Democratic candidate for the presidency.

We seem to have a penchant for looking back more than ahead. The military has a phrase for it: Preparing for the last war. The civilian equivalent is: Hey, let’s have a congressional investigation!

Here in Boise, I had reservations at first about the Community Ombudsman program, worried that an investigator would take weeks or months to second-guess actions of a police officer who had only moments to make a life-or-death decision.

But in time, I concluded that after-action reviews are good when they are thoughtful and lead to improvements in policy and procedure. They aren’t that useful when they just plow ground that has been plowed before.

Worse, we face some real problems that are not being addressed when time and energy (and news coverage) are hijacked by Benghazi.

Before too long the presidential campaign season will be in full swing, and that’s a good time to focus on things that matter more to most of us than rehashing the 2012 tragedy. When all those presidential wannabes are lined up on stage — in the case of Republicans, a very big stage — they are going to have to talk about what they want to do, rather than what they think someone else should have done.

Here, for starters, are a few questions that might be asked during the “debates”:

Health care

The U.S. ranks right at the top in the percentage of gross domestic product spent on health care. Yet U.S. outcomes aren’t all that great. The latest CIA “World Factbook” ranks U.S. life expectancy at birth at No. 42, somewhere between South Korea and the Turks and Caicos Islands. What precisely do you propose to do to lower health care costs while improving the quality of care for all Americans?

(Bonus points for Republican candidates: Please try to answer this question by telling us how good your plan is, and not how bad you think Obamacare is.)


Are humans primarily responsible for global warming? If yes, tell us what you think we should do. If no, explain why all those scientists are wrong.

Family income distribution

The CIA’s “World Factbook” ranks the U.S. as 101st in the world in income inequality, behind Iran, Uganda, Nicaragua and so on. What specifically do you think should be done to reduce that disparity? And do you think it’s important to have a thriving middle class?

(Bonus question for Democrats: Do you think Bill Clinton’s speaker fees are obscenely high?)

Racial problems

In 2008, some pundits opined that we had reached a “postracial society.” But recent events suggest we still have a long way to go. What’s your take on this and what do you want to do differently?

Iraq, Afghanistan, and the whole mess

We’ve been mired in the Middle East for a long time now. Without blaming anyone for decisions made in the past, what do you think the U.S. role should be? And what would your strategy be? Drones? Boots on the ground? Surge? Withdrawal? Crossing your fingers?

Financial oversight

Wall Street has a bunch of slow learners who are starting to revert to some of the practices that led to the last recession, which we’re still kind of working our way out of. Tell us your views on financial industry regulation.

Questions like these will get us started and, with luck, thinking about the governance we want in the future. At least we won’t be looking backward — again.

Lindy High, of Boise, is a retired Idaho state employee who worked for elected officials of both parties.