Last Friday’s employment numbers — with 163,000 jobs created in July, and the jobless rate rising to 8.3% — were neither uplifting nor surprising. These came on the heels of last week’s Fed report that the economy grew only 1.5% in the second quarter. It’s clear that the economic recovery has stagnated. With the fall election campaign barely a month away, the American economy will be the dominant issue.
But it’s hardly the only one. Add to that the federal budget deficit and the national debt — which now stand at $1.3 trillion and $15 trillion, respectively — the unsolved cost crisis of generational entitlement programs, the failure of U.S. education, current and future energy policy and Americans’ loss of confidence in their political system. Oh, and there’s also foreign policy.
Yet neither candidate seems interested in addressing these issues with anything beyond superficial gestures and political grandstanding. Where we need a campaign equal to the challenges we face — especially the need for large-scale, comprehensive fiscal reform — we instead have a campaign about nothing, obsessed with petty gaffes and parallel caricatures.
What do the candidates have to say to Americans who have lost jobs and homes, who can’t find work, who worry that the American Dream itself is a thing of the past? What is the way forward?
President Obama’s answer is to pit one group of taxpayers against another, pledging to raise taxes on “the rich” while protecting the middle class from any sacrifices. The President believes that revenue from tax hikes on the rich will make a real impact on the deficit; it won’t.
Meanwhile, he refuses to take on entitlement reform, the real elephant in the room. He’d rather demonize Mitt Romney for working for Bain Capital, a private-equity firm whose management of struggling companies sometimes resulted in layoffs.
The Obama campaign’s ads against Bain have been effective — but they do nothing for Americans worried about jobs.
Obama’s defenders point out that he has put forward a jobs plan, the American Jobs Act, that has stalled in Congress. The plan calls for, among other things, doubling the payroll tax cut, increasing infrastructure investment and hiring more state and local workers. This is mostly small-bore stuff, though, and unlikely to create many jobs.
The existing payroll tax cut hasn’t created many jobs. America does need more modern infrastructure, but such investment now will only increase our debt — and adding to state and local payrolls will push these governments further toward bankruptcy. Some have already gotten there.
Besides, whatever the plan’s merits, Obama isn’t running on it. The President seems to have decided that his best chance for reelection is to divide the electorate and unite a coalition based on class envy. That’s a pathetic excuse for leadership.
Romney’s approach is like a mirror image of Obama’s: Where the President unites his base with class warfare, Romney seeks to rally his by running almost entirely on anti-Obama rhetoric. His campaign has made few attempts to address the issues facing America.
Like the President, Romney has also put forward a “plan” — one that famously contains 59 points. Some are sensible: cutting corporate tax rates, expanding domestic energy production and getting tough with China on trade policy. But even when you add these all up, they are tinker-around-the-edges solutions to a full-blown crisis.
And besides, like the President, Romney isn’t running on his plan.
The Romney campaign has been amazingly content-free, outside of its anti-Obama jabs. That’s about all we’ve heard: repeal Obamacare, with no attempt to provide alternative solutions to the nation’s health care problems; attack the President for being anti-business and anti-success, while refusing to even acknowledge America’s massive income-inequality gaps (Romney, in fact, said such topics should only be discussed in “quiet rooms”); and charge that the President has been soft on Iran, without explaining how his policy would be different (many experts see little difference, in fact).
And where the President avoids entitlement reform, Romney absurdly rules out tax increases under any circumstances.
This isn’t leadership; it’s pandering.
Romney and Obama surely know that the American people are disgusted by a politics devoted to winning elections, not solving problems.
Poll after poll makes this clear, yet our presidential candidates are unwilling to answer the most basic questions: Who we are, where we’re going and how we get there.
I think both Obama and Romney are decent, intelligent, well-meaning individuals. But as leaders, they are sadly unequal to these times.