Time to focus on real issues

I, for one, never want to see or hear of Barack Obama’s ex-preacher again. I will not countenance scurrilous talk about how John McCain adopted his daughter. I will protest vociferously any more stupid innuendo about Obama’s middle name. I may punch in the nose anyone who questions the state of the McCains’ marriage.

There are many — MANY — who will try to trivialize this election by smearing the other party’s candidate with as much mud as possible. There have been many indications already of how ridiculously off-base some peripheral players want us to get and how low they are willing to go to win.

We have had a thorough vetting during the last 16 years of how much power, money, influence and greed are involved in national politics. Enough.

Here are 10 of the most important issues we must demand that Obama and McCain debate in this election. If these issues are not thoroughly examined and if we do not hear specific — SPECIFIC — plans from each candidate, it will be our own fault. Unless we insist on straight talk and honest change, whoever is elected will get mired in the same old political quicksand.

1. We must figure out how to bring Americans who are skirting financial disaster back into fiscal solvency. We have an entire generation that is fast losing hope of a secure future. The high school dropout rate is scandalous; we are not creating enough good jobs.

2. The war in Iraq has sullied our image in the world and is dragging down our economy and cutting off our options for fixing our many problems. It’s time to stop the absurd talk of “winning” in Iraq and deal with the mess we have made so we can pull out our troops.

3. We are being strangled by our need for foreign oil. We have been foolish and profligate with energy. The Clinton and Bush administrations stuck their heads in the sand, and now we’re in trouble. We must create a rational plan for energy independence. We must invest in alternative energy sources.

4. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our roads, bridges, pipelines, water tanks, ports, sewers, water mains and other structures that make our nation work are all in need of costly repairs, upgrading and replacement. The Clinton and Bush administrations ignored the problem. We no longer have that luxury.

5. The public education system that made us the envy of the world is broken. Our students do not know as much and are not learning as much as those in many Third World countries. The No Child Left Behind Act did not work. We have to start from scratch.

6. Our military is stretched to the breaking point. We have to take care of our veterans and rethink our place in the world and what we are willing to do to boost our armed services. We need a national service plan to involve our youth and give them a stake in their country’s future.

7. We have the power to destroy the delicate ecosystem that makes life on Earth possible. We must get serious about environmental protection and cleanup and global warming. Every federal agency that deals with the environment needs to be overhauled. The United States stopped leading on this front; it must pick up the reins again.

8. About 47 million Americans do not have health care. If they get sick or injured, their lives become a nightmare some will never escape. It is time to create a rational, workable, affordable universal health care system.

9. Terrorism is a fact of life. We have to be vigilant and secure in our borders. We must reform our immigration system without giving up our civil liberties or slamming our doors.

10. We have to redouble our efforts to be innovative, respond to technological challenges and stay competitive in a changing world.

We are still the most impressive nation on earth, but we’ve gotten off track. We’ve forgotten the sacrifices and hard work that made this nation great. It’s time to remember and insist our leaders remember.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)