THE BLOG
09/07/2012 12:59 pm ET Updated Nov 07, 2012

A Big Stakes Election With Little Sense of Vision

Trust me.

Along with massive mounds of money, funneled secretively into super PACs, those two words sum up the 2012 presidential campaign.

Trust me, MItt Romney said in Tampa. We'll create millions of jobs, cut taxes even more and lower the deficit. Trust me. I'm not Barack Obama.

Trust me, Barack Obama told Democrats in Charlotte. It's been tough, but we're on the right path. Just as I took office, America fell in a deep ditch. But we're climbing out of it, step by step. Trust me. I'm not Mitt Romney.

And so we Americans -- or at least those not disenfranchised by an ugly and sustained GOP effort to keep some from voting -- will have to go with gut instincts this November. That's because the candidates haven't given us much new to think about.

Listen to the pundits:

"Mr. Romney offered exceptionally little detail in terms of policy in his acceptance speech last week," writes Nate Silver in the New York Times Five Thirty Eight column. "Nor did most of the Republicans' other prime-time speakers."

"The Obama speech offered some important if familiar hints of big policy ideas," wrote Times columnist David Brooks. "... But it's hard to be enthusiastic about President Obama truly championing initiatives that get no more than a sentence or a clause."

I don't share Brooks' conviction, voiced earlier this week, that Barack Obama should be laying out some overarching, and inevitably fracturing, detailed vision of America's next four years, some grand plan to fight climate change or sharply reduce government debt. Political campaigns simply aren't won that way. But Brooks is right that the president could and should have shown a bit more audacity. I would have liked to have heard a new idea or two, to have come away with a sense that Barack Obama deserves a second term not just for being the more sober, centrist candidate but because he's still trying new things.

As Obama said, he's the president now, not some neophyte campaigner (one who, by implication, sometimes promises the moon). But all great bosses -- and yes, the president is America's "boss" -- carve some space to be visionary and not merely efficient, to communicate with passion and not just get things done.

Perhaps I ask too much. Democrats, and particularly the still masterful Bill Clinton, made a strong case for what Barack Obama has accomplished in awfully tough times, from guaranteeing the sick -- those with pre-existing conditions -- the right to health care, to saving the American automobile industry. Obama himself laid out clearly the stark choice of economic philosophies Americans face and the not-so-hidden secret that Republicans keep hitting the same broken drum of trickle-down economics and tax cuts decades after these ideas have proven themselves to be bankrupt and unsustainable.

The president's speech did communicate the fundamental decency at his core, and what I accept as his heartfelt belief that "we the people" means just that -- government as a collaborative enterprise. Quite honestly, I knew who I was voting for before hearing any of the convention speeches.

But Americans who looked to Barack Obama's speech for inspiration likely got it, if at all, from the same place he says he gets his -- from his litany of remarkable Americans who have continued to soldier on and succeed against long odds. The viewers tuning in likely didn't get inspiration from anyplace specific the president promised to lead.

And that, in a way, is sad. A president needs to govern and to lead. Too quietly at times, Barack Obama has governed remarkably well amid often near-impossible circumstances. I'm still waiting to see more of the leadership.

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