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These 5 key subjects were almost entirely ignored in the first Democratic debate

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- Commentary

During the first 2020 Democratic presidential primary debates on June 27-28, the candidates — 20 altogether — covered a lot of ground, from the need for universal health care to immigration policy to environmental concerns and the Green New Deal. The debates showed quite a contrast on some key issues, especially health care: while all the candidates called for universal health care, they had very different views on ways to achieve that. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont called for a Medicare-for-all program and an end to private health insurance, while more centrist candidates like Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar called for an aggressive expansion of Obamacare combined with a public option Americans could buy into.

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But four hours worth of debating (two hours on June 27, two more on June 28 — minus time devoted to commercials) cannot be all things to all people, and there were some important issues that fell by the wayside. Here are five important issues that received insufficient or no attention during the debates — and need to be addressed at future debates, including the ones scheduled for July 30-31.

1. Breaking up too-big-to-fail banks and bringing back the Glass-Steagall Act

After the economic crash of September 2008, the megabanks that were described as “too big to fail” (Goldman-Sachs, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase) should have been broken up into a bunch of smaller banks. Instead, they were bailed out and allowed to grow even larger. Warren and Sanders have both been quite vocal about their desire to use anti-trust laws to break up the United States’ largest megabanks, but that’s a sensitive subject — even among Democrats — and it would have been interesting to hear what many of the other Democratic presidential candidates think about Warren and Sanders’ proposals.

Do they think that breaking up Bank of America, for example, into ten or 20 smaller banks is a good idea?

Another interesting question for Democratic debates: would you favor bringing back the Glass-Steagall Act? Repealed in the 1990s when Bill Clinton was president, Glass-Steagall was a New Deal-era law that mandated a strict separation of commercial and investment banking. Warren and Sanders are very much on the record as wanting to bring back Glass-Steagall, but other candidates should weigh in as well.

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2. Domestic terrorism

Republicans have had a great deal to say about “national security” during the Trump era, but they do the country a huge disservice by pretending that only far-right Islamist groups like ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria) and al-Qaeda pose a terrorist threat. Most of the terrorist attacks and plots that have imperiled the U.S. during the Trump era have been committed not by Islamists, but by white supremacists and white nationalists — such as the killing of activist Heather Heyer at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh, and accused mail bomber Cesar Sayoc sending explosive devices to prominent Democrats and media figures.

Hopefully, domestic terrorism will be a more prominent topic at future Democratic presidential debates. They should address how they would combat this serious threat and what role they believe Trump may have had in stoking the danger.

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3. How to handle the next recession

It isn’t a question of whether or not the U.S. will have another recession — it’s a question of when and how severe it will be. Some recessions come and go without inflicting really widespread damage; the Great Recession, however, was brutal for millions of Americans, and its effects continue to haunt us.

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So candidates should be pressed on this issue at future Democratic presidential debates. What policies would they like to see in place during the next recession? What types of policies would they favor to prevent or decrease foreclosures and homelessness? What types of programs would they favor for the unemployed?

4. The housing crisis

Warren has been outspoken about the severity of the United States’ housing crisis, noting that wages and income haven’t been keeping up with the high cost of housing —especially in large urban centers. The Massachusetts senator has an abundance of ideas for addressing this crisis and creating more affordable housing, and there needs to be more discussion at future Democratic presidential debates of the types of policies she is proposing. How would the other candidates address the housing crisis in the U.S. and the fact that renting an apartment or purchasing a home in many areas is unaffordable not only for the poor, but for the middle class as well?

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5. The death penalty

During the Bill Clinton era in the 1990s, many Democrats were afraid to oppose the death penalty and be perceived as “soft on crime.” But criminal justice reform was a topic that came up during the Democratic debates on June 27-28. Nonetheless, there needs to be a lot more discussion of the death penalty among the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. The liberal/progressive wing of the Democratic Party has been increasingly outspoken against capital punishment, but there are still many centrist Democrats who favor it — and future debates need to dig deeper into the specifics of the death penalty and where the candidates stand.

This issue has become even more salient as Attorney General Bill Barr has just revived the death penalty for federal crimes.


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