In debates, some issues more equal than others

Economy eclipses climate change, court, gays

BOCA RATON, Fla. — President Obama says on the campaign trail that global warming “isn’t a hoax,” and it was one of his big three legislative priorities coming into office in 2009 along with passing a stimulus and his health care law — and the only one of those three he didn’t get done.

Yet the candidates didn’t get asked a single question about climate change — or, for that matter, the stimulus law — in their three debates.

Those are just some of the issues left on the cutting-room floor, along with gay rights and the definition of marriage, Supreme Court nominations, stem-cell research, marijuana legalization and other policy questions and decisions the next president will have to make.

Indeed, the Supreme Court came up just once in the three debates and had nothing to do with nominations. Constitutional limits, executive authority and Mr. Obama’s use of recess appointment powers didn’t come up at all, nor did the Defense of Marriage Act.

Russia, which featured prominently in the 2008 foreign policy debate, was a brief afterthought in Monday’s debate. And left unmentioned were the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the U.S.’s policy on indefinite detention and handling of American citizens who the government believes are fighting on the side of the terrorists.

“The economy has kind of ruled the roost here, and it’s kind of sucked all the air out of the room,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the National Resources Defense Council Action Fund, who was waiting to see whether climate change would earn a spot in the final debate on foreign policy Monday night in Boca Raton, Fla.

Her hopes were unfulfilled as moderator Bob Schieffer left the issue unasked at all — even though he’s the one who raised it in the 2008 foreign policy debate between Mr. Obama and Republican nominee Sen. John McCain.

Ms. Taylor-Miesle said it was fitting that the economy dominated the debates — it’s by far the top issue on voters’ minds this year, according to polls and focus groups — but clean energy and climate change are rising on the list of voter concerns.

After the second debate, moderator Candy Crowley of CNN said she had a question teed up to be asked by a member of the audience but never got around to it.

“Climate change — we had that question, to all you climate-change people. … We knew the economy was still the main thing, so you knew you kind of wanted to go with the economy,” she said on CNN.

Ms. Taylor-Miesle said that was cold comfort.

“I feel like our kids are going to look back, and they’re going to be like, ‘What in the heck was that lady talking about?’” she said. “‘What were those men talking about? Why didn’t this issue come up?’”

She said it’s an issue where major differences deserve to be explored.

Issue unexplored

As with climate change, gay rights has been absent from the debate agenda so far.

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