As the years that separate me from the glorious days on the high school debate team have accumulated, the frequency of thinking and arguing about fundamental issues has dropped sharply. Ironically, despite being one of the most cultured and diverse melting pots on the planet, the social life in New York is not particularly designed to encourage discourse, at least in my experience. We all work hard and in the little spare time we have we want to have fun, a concept that for a quarter-aged gay male typically favors drinking in a bar full of beautiful strangers in place of discussing the broken healthcare system or the merits and drawbacks of big government. Besides, as one gets increasingly accustomed to - or perhaps comfortable in - the way the world operates, the urge to question is muted as is the perceived ability to do anything with the entrenched status quo. Sometimes I nostalgically look at the pictures of the long-haired Hair-singing Kerouac-reading teenager from Slovakia and wonder: "What happened?" (The answer lies, roughly speaking, here.. and here, here, here and here.)
Which is why it is refreshing to have the elections as a reason (or an excuse) to once again think, discuss and opine - to believe that how we vote can actually change how we live (not that I can vote, but I can certainly discuss and opine enough to more than compensate!). It is all the more frustrating when, given all the great pressing issues of the world we live in, gas prices are the only one that seems to be getting significant attention from the news media and the presidential candidates. Sure, it is an important issue that affects this country in more than one way, and naturally, it gets acute attention from everyone who doesn't live in Manhattan, because it is so present in people's everyday life and the choices they make. However, the attention it draws in the context of the election seems undue for two reasons: (1) Neither candidate can do much about it and it is questionable whether one would do anything dramatically different from the other especially as the grinding machine of the campaigning process is slowly blending their "solutions" via multiple double-sided flip-flops into one big gassy mess. (2) Every other issue seems to be pushed to the side, in particular issues where the candidates could actually take positions that differentiate them from one another. And they are different - and not just in age, race and height; they just don't talk about it a whole lot.
Which brings me to Krugman, the man who made my day by once again highlighting an issue that I think does not hit the radar often enough given how important it is. In his op-ed in NY Times today he talks about the likelihood of healthcare reform. It is, in my opinion, one of the most fundamental questions that this country has to face, for a variety of reasons which I do not want to get into right now. The point is it's not an issue that is sexy, it doesn't affect everyone every day and therefore it needs disciples who will keep it alive and somewhere close to the forefront. And I think the challenge for us, readers, citizens, voters (however pompous that may sound!) is to adopt an orphan issue, one that is important yet neglected and to try to understand it inside out, because when the candidates talk, the only way to know a difference between them and to see who gets it is to get it on your own.
PS: Incidentally, with regards to healthcare, Obama may mean well but Clinton had him dominated on the issue - a point that probably escaped those who do not pay much attention to it or do not care. Ironically, now that the contrast on real issues between the candidates should be ever more vivid, people are seemingly falling back on abstract proxies for success like "experience" and "comfort", or at least that is the conclusion that some draw from the closing gap between the two candidates. Now, if ever, is the time to read the blue print.