Maybe it was a mistake to schedule this forum on the same day that there were so many big football games on TV. Could anyone blame Mitt Romney if he decided to watch the Michigan-Ohio State game? And I'm sure Mike Huckabee was interested in the Arkansas-Mississippi State game. Connecticut's trouncing of Syracuse was probably thrilling for Christopher Dodd.
But I doubt that all the candidates were watching football. Maybe Fred Thompson was auditioning for some TV show. Perhaps Barack Obama was holed up somewhere, asking himself, "Why am I so good at long speeches, but not so good at short answers?" Joe Biden may have spent the day looking at his new, improved hair, and Rudy Giuliani might have been practicing saying, over and over again, "9/11, 9/11."
Candidates have to make choices about which functions to attend, which speeches to make, etc. They're all working hard, and they can't go to everything. But this absence was a bit glaring. The Republican Party has been knocked for years as not caring enough about the environment. Consider what great publicity one Republican candidate would have gotten if he had shown up for this forum. He'd appear to be the one Republican candidate who cared about what's happening to our planet.
There are several reasons why some candidates choose not to speak about environmental problems. For one thing, those who are contributing the most to global warming might also be contributing the most to campaigns. Big business and big oil will have to make some changes to help the environment.
Also, for some time, there have been people on the Right who haven't accepted global warming as a reality. Now most people - including President Bush - have accepted that reality. But there are still some who haven't. Perhaps the three Republican candidates who said they don't believe in evolution - Brownback, Huckabee, and Tancredo - also don't believe in the science that has demonstrated that global warming is real. (There is no truth to the rumor that these three guys also don't believe in gravity.)
One reason that the environment and climate change don't get the "traction" of other issues is that they're a bit elusive. Was the hot spell you had in your town last summer just an ordinary hot spell, or was it related to global warming? Nobody can give us exact answers on why it might be warmer today than it was 20 years ago on this date, or why you had to shovel less snow last winter than in previous years. However, scientists can tell us that the global climate is definitely changing.
But I think the big reason for the poor attendance at the forum is that the environment is just not a "sexy" or "hot-button" issue. When the campaign is finally narrowed down to one Democrat and one Republican, they won't be talking much about what we can do to make us less dependent on foreign oil and how we can slow down global warming. As usual, they'll be talking about who should get drivers' licenses and who should be allowed to get married.
It's ironic that this presidential candidate forum was held on the same day that a United Nations panel warned of the growing threat from climate change. Most of the world sees this threat as serious. Isn't it about time that all of our presidential candidates took it seriously, too?
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them printed on recycled paper.
By Lloyd Garver