Investing fiercely in status quo campaigning, neither presidential candidate is exercising innovative leadership that would inspire or energize us. Recent gaffes abroad ("MI6," "Mr. Leader," etc.) remind us not to expect as much from Mr. Romney. However, the president knows better, and he's capable of it.
Instead, the president's campaign surrogates, advisers, and ads -- and the president himself -- are failing to show us an exit from the low road, and offer a new and compelling way forward.
From a leadership perspective, we wonder: What has the president learned in his first term? What would make him more apt to get congressional support in his second term? What would Obama 2.0's "change" be?
By failing to use his valuable airtime answering those questions, team Obama has, by error of omission, fumbled the change message to team Romney. (They don't seem to have recovered the ball, but they might... ) Americans want "different," and if the president spends more time hazing the competition than offering that, the only option is the other guy.
The Obama campaign is giving no one a reason to believe there's even a chance things will be any different going forward.
In fact, Obama 2012 campaign adviser David Axelrod sent me a fundraising email yesterday with the subject line "I'm damn proud," and the punch line was: "You know what's kind of amazing? That we're not getting blown away in the face of unprecedented, unlimited spending from super PACs, Mitt Romney, and all the other shadowy groups trashing Barack Obama nonstop."
Read: Gee, we could be victimized by the bad guys much worse here, so isn't it great that we're holding our own?
Rather than self-congratulating over that, we ache for actual, effective leadership. We want the president to show us the way, answer those questions, to acknowledge the mighty efforts of Americans to cope with prolonged economic challenges, and to take responsibility (rather than cast blame) for lack of progress in DC. It's certainly not the president's fault that the economy crashed in 2008, but it's on his watch that the clean up isn't accelerating.
Suggestion for team Obama: stop deflecting responsibility, and plant your flag in it -- translate that fierce resolve with which you've gone after terrorism into the courage to show us you are responsible for the trajectory of change, and offer us the specific solutions to get through it faster than you did in your first term.
If the president's campaign messages were to reclaim the role of change agent, Mr. Romney could spend a billion dollars, and he may do, but with his missteps, blankness, revisionist rewriting of past passionate positions, and surrounding team of Bush cronies, I would wager the gap between the two candidates would be greatly in President Obama's favor.
After all, history shows you can't sell a substandard product, no matter how much you spend promoting it, unless the alternative is equally or less enticing. The rancor, negativity and blame embedded in the president's messaging are far off the perfect pitch we know he can do.
President Obama has done some great things, and many good things, all of which are obscured by the messages his campaign is sending.
Let's hear him say, "The economy is not where it can be, and where we want it to be -- and that's on my watch, and I am responsible -- but thank goodness it's not where we came from. I have a plan to accelerate change, and here it is..."
Perhaps the debates are the time to do it, but a message of positive, proactive change, and a clear road map leading to it, starting with ads, surrogates, and stump speeches, would be just the GPS the president needs to lead us -- and his team -- back to the high road.