Every now and then I run across an article so compelling that I have to share it with you. This past week, there were two. Both speak to the rich, substantive dialogue we could—and, I would say, should—be having in this U.S. election year.

First, the ever-perceptive Thomas Friedman spins a succinct narrative of the United States’ last 30 years. In a nutshell, the country had a history of educating its people to the level of the latest technology and innovation—thus equipping them for emerging high-skilled jobs—but stopped doing so around the 1980s. As a national workforce, therefore, we lack the skills to compete with other countries around the globe, many of which have surpassed the U.S. in such basic but essential capabilities as reading and math.

The second article, by Scott Shane of The New York Times, touches on a related topic, discussing the dismal U.S. rankings on issues from child poverty to student achievement to obesity. A national dialogue on these and other problems might go a long way toward promoting the health and vigor of U.S. society. Yet Shane posits that the culture of American exceptionalism prevents us from even reflecting on these issues, let alone discussing them in the public square.

Friedman and Shane touch on some of the most pressing challenges in the U.S. today. They are more than worthy of dialogue on a substantial scale. For example, one would expect that the people seeking to lead the country would address the problems that plague the country. It is said that such a strategy would be political suicide, for the reasons Shane describes, and he is probably right.

The question is: does it have to be this way?