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A good candidate connects the dots

Robert Reich

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KAI RYSSDAL: Union endorsements are one way some people choose their candidates. Others go for personal charisma or that ever-elusive electability. Some just line up all the various policy proposals and tick them off in a list of pros and cons. Commentator Robert Reich says that is a dangerous oversimplification.


ROBERT REICH: Comparing candidates issue by issue or policy by policy is seriously misleading. It suggests every major problem we face is neatly separable, calling for a distinct solution. But in reality almost every big issue facing the nation is tightly linked to almost every other one. The first step to finding real solutions is to understand these linkages.

Start with foreign policy. The major challenges today are centered in the Middle East, Russia and China. They're linked together, and that linkage is oil. Even absent Islamic extremism and Russia's remaining nuclear warheads, we'd still focus on these places because more than two-thirds of the world's oil supply comes from the Middle East and Russia, and our economy still critically depends on oil. And why is China building up its military? Most likely to protect its own global lifelines to oil.

Global oil consumption, in turn, is the leading cause of global warming. And reducing global warming depends on alternative sources of energy. Nuclear energy is a top candidate, but how can it be generated safely and kept out of the hands of terrorists? Meanwhile, agricultural-based energy sources like ethanol are expensive, and agricultural subsidies inevitably distort world commodity markets. Which brings us to global poverty. It's worsened by crop subsidies in rich nations, and also by climate change. Global warming is bad for everybody but especially if you're poor -- living in a low-lying part of a city increasingly subject to flooding, or an area of the world turning to desert and losing its capacity to grow food. Global poverty, in turn, is a leading cause of the increasing flow of immigrants around the globe.

So you see candidates can't really talk intelligently about one issue without talking about the others. Rather than give us 50 words or 30 seconds on each, we need people who can explain the connections, and tell us how their response to one would help us deal with the others -- or at least not make the others worse.

RYSSDAL: Fifteen years ago Robert Riech was the secretary of labor for President Clinton. He's now a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

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