09/10/2012 05:27 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The 2012 U.S. Presidential Election Depends on Romney's and Obama's Answer to One Question


The conventions are over, the acceptance speeches delivered. The worst possible economic news for President Obama was served up with Friday's atrocious jobs report.

And we now know all the sideshows: Bain Capital, the DNC platform fight over "God" and "Jerusalem," Mitt Romney's tax returns, Obama's place of birth, Mormonism, the appropriately named Sandra Fluke.

The candidates can no longer hide. And you, the American voter, have the right to know their concrete answers to the only question that deeply matters to your future and the future of this country.

For the past three years, poll after poll has demonstrated that the number one priority of American voters is the economy. In most polls of late, the economy is followed closely by the budget deficit.

In my last Huffington Post dispatch, "Obama Has Won Almost Every Policy Argument, But Could Lose On Topicality," I noted that the President has artfully sidestepped those two primary concerns. He's talked about increasing education loans (even though we already have a student loan bubble), ending DADT, providing equal pay for women, offing Bin Laden, ending the Iraq War, and amnesty for select illegal aliens (deliberately mis-characterized as "dreamers") because those policies are popular with his Democratic base.

However, as his Democratic National Convention acceptance speech made clear, Mr. Obama knows he can no longer hide from the top two issues of most concern to American voters. He must come up with an explanation for his economic and budgetary failures. And, sure enough, as if the President had read my last HuffPo dispatch, his DNC acceptance speech provided just that missing explanation: A. the Republicans left him a mess; B. they blocked his jobs bill and a "grand bargain" on the deficit; C. the economy is slowly improving, if not fast enough.

Never mind that excuses are rarely a sign of leadership. They are, in fact, the antithesis of leadership. Regardless, this kind of wimpy blame game will satisfy Obama's fervent base.

However, if the jobs number continues its medicore trajectory (basically not keeping up with population growth or with the nearly four hundred thousand folks each month now giving up looking for work altogether), it will not be an explanation that persuades the largely white swing voters that Obama desperately needs in order to win come November.


On the other hand, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have hardly been the model of specificity. Especially on which tax loopholes they plan to close to fund their "framework" of reforms. While it's indisputable that a successful businessman like Romney and a deficit hawk like Ryan will inspire more capital spending than has the anti-business rhetoric coming from our community-organizer-in-chief, such a change in tone will not blanket over an absence of detail.

Particularly because Romney and Ryan's rhetoric of late has made them seem like G.W. Bush redux, with all the same chicken-hawk bellicosity that engendered two outrageously expensive wars on Dubya's watch. Because one of those wars, Iraq, was completely unnecessary and deceitfully sold, one wonders if Romney and Ryan would bust their balanced budget with a similar misadventure.

Moreover, Romney and Ryan both embrace the very supply side theories that George Bush, Sr. labelled "voodoo economics," while sounding positively Keynesian when they wax on about the job-producing benefits of increased defense spending. What's it going to be, gentlemen, Krugman or Hayek?

Batman and Robin have spent a lot of time lambasting Mr. Obama for his failure to lead on the budget crisis. Bob Woodward's scathing critique of the President's actions, or lack thereof, in the critical hours in the summer of 2011 certainly buttresses their claim. However, with their wholly unnecessary two trillion dollar proposed defense increase (which even the Pentagon's top brass doesn't want or need), not to mention across-the-board tax cuts of $5 trillion, one wonders how Romney and Ryan plan to balance the budget anytime soon, except through draconian cuts in the safety net. Moreover, they better start getting uber-specific on which tax shelters for the rich they plan to close, lest Obama successfully frames their close-the-loopholes strategy as a de facto middle class tax increase.

Indeed, if Paul Ryan is right, and public spending has far less of a productive effect than private spending, why are he and Governor Romney proposing increased defense spending at all? It completely undercuts their case that it is successful private sector businesses that pay for the building of national infrastructure, not the other way around.

At St. John's College Santa Fe, where I received my masters in Liberal Arts, we were taught that the sign of academic excellence is in having a great question, not in having the "correct" answer. While I cannot attest that my question is "great," I can attest that it is the question most Americans want answered. Don't be surprised if this very question is appropriated by a talking head come October:

"Governor Romney, President Obama, this question is directed to each of you. Please specifiy in as much detail as possible how you plan to dramatically and empirically grow U.S. jobs, exports, and GDP over the next four years without worsening our environment, increasing our deficit, or precipitating a trade war?"

Friends, the entire 2012 U.S. presidential election comes down to this question. Please demand that the two candidates give you the detailed answers you deserve.

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