11/30/2007 05:08 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Forgetting Our Biggest Special Interest: The American People

If you listened to CNN self-promote the YouTube debate on Wednesday night, it was going to be another "monumental" or "historic" moment where the voice of the people would be heard loud and clear on the campaign trail. Anderson Cooper and his team would push the candidates to answer tough questions from thousands of regular Americans that sent in videos on the issues that mattered most to them.

They claimed they wouldn't let special interests push questions. Apparently that doesn't include allowing questions from Grover Norquist's anti-tax group, and even Hillary Clinton's campaign. Just like at the Democratic debate in July, CNN again struck out by failing to listen to the most important special interest in our democracy--the American people.

The Wall Street Journal
analyzed the first 3,000 questions submitted, and found that education was the most submitted topic. There were more questions submitted on education than those about health care, Iraq, foreign policy, and personal character. Americans understand that we have a crisis in education.

The media simply ignored the voices of the American people. The only quasi-education question concerned college tuition breaks for military members or illegal immigrants. How about addressing the fact that nationally one third of college students (civilian, military, ALL students) need to take remedial courses just so they can learn things they should have mastered in high school, and less than third of them will ever earn a degree?

Cooper chose a question asking if candidates really believe every word of the Bible. Fine, but a more fundamental concern is that kids won't even know how to read the Bible, given that about 70% of U.S. 8th graders are below the proficient level in reading. Yesterday's Washington Post reports more test results showing that American students are in a reading skills free-fall compared with other countries.

We can discuss crime and how to punish criminals, but CNN again missed the point. To reduce crime we've got to address the root cause. More than two-thirds of inmates in the nation's state and federal prisons and local jails are high school dropouts, and dropouts are more than eight times as likely to be in jail or prison as a high school graduate and nearly twenty times as likely as a college graduate.

Trying to address crime without improving education first is like fixing a leaky roof by putting a bucket on the floor to collect the water: it does nothing to stop it from dripping.

I have no problem with discussions of the economy, taxes, and federal spending. But our dropouts costs us $192 billion every year, and we could grow our economy [pdf] an additional $1.5 trillion over 30 years if we could raise our students' skill levels just to the level of average Europeans. It's ridiculous to talk about our economic future without mentioning education.

There was no shortage of quality, important questions on education, like the one submitted by Jonathan Mitchell, training director of a New Hampshire electrical union. He is pleading with the next president to improve our school system to produce students who have the skills necessary to take on high-wage, skilled jobs.

Momentum has been building on education in this election. More candidates have released substantive education plans, and the YouTube submissions indicate Americans want to hear from the rest of them. Before Wednesday night, we heard six education questions in just the three previous debates.

The media refusing to question Republican's on education in the most watched debate plays into the kind of patronizing, partisan stereotyping that hurts the political process by disregarding the will of the American people. The media often holds itself up as the guardians of truth and defenders of liberty, but if it wants to embrace such a high and mighty position, it cannot allow the next president to be timid on education.