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At a crucial time, uninspiring choices for president

Voters may be uninspired by their choice for president on Nov. 6. On the issue most urgent to Americans – the economy – neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has offered a credible plan that might spark growth and help create jobs. Similarly, on the issue that profoundly threatens the United States long-term – the debt – neither candidate has come forth with a prescriptive, balanced proposal of program cuts and increased revenues.

If all that has slowed your sprint to the nearest voting precinct, we understand. The editorial board has been underwhelmed, too, and we’ve found it challenging to recommend either candidate.

On the economy, the choice between Obama and Romney is a choice between no plan and one that doesn’t add up. The president has offered no specific proposal for attacking the issue in his second term, instead pitching long-term ideas about education and tax incentives for domestic manufacturing jobs. His short-term solution? Keep waiting, America, things are getting better. If they are, it’s incremental at best, and too slow for those Americans barely hanging on to businesses, jobs and homes.

Romney’s plan could have promise but is incomplete. In addition to maintaining the Bush tax cuts for all Americans, Romney proposes an 20 percent marginal tax rate cut for all, along with repealing and replacing Dodd-Frank Act financial regulations. That strategy would create a climate friendly to growth, Romney says, and it’s true that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush used the approach to help lift the U.S. economy from recessions early in their presidencies.

Romney, however, has declined to provide enough details about how he’d pay for those tax cuts, and he hasn’t said which regulations he’d keep in place to protect consumers. In the most recent presidential debate, Romney suggested paying for his tax cuts in part by putting a cap on the total deductions taxpayers can claim. That’s a conversation starter, but without details, it’s not a credible plan.

Both candidates also have come up short on courage regarding the $16 trillion debt that threatens our country’s fiscal future. Obama ignored the strong recommendations made by the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission he established, and after House Republicans rejected the framework for a debt deal he negotiated with House Speaker John Boehner, Obama has offered little on the issue beyond raising taxes on the wealthy. That proposal might fire up the Democratic base, but it’s hardly a start toward meaningfully cutting debt.

Romney, for his part, may be going the wrong direction. On top of sizeable tax rate cuts, he’s proposed a significant increase in defense spending. Again, he hasn’t provided the corresponding budget cuts he’d make, other than to say he’ll sit down and ask if individual programs are “worth borrowing money from China.” We like that he’s at least talking about cutting – which Obama is avoiding – but without more specifics, we’re left to trust that his “China” threshold is more than a good political line.

What we do know about Romney makes us uncomfortable. He has vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and although he’s suggested keeping some parts of Obama’s health care reform that Americans like, those also happen to be the expensive parts. Romney hasn’t said how he’ll pay for them.

Romney also opposes abortion, a position voters should note given that a U.S. Supreme Court justice or two could retire soon. Romney’s hard line on immigration hews with the more extreme views of his party. His proposals to stave off Medicare insolvency by providing an optional voucher for private insurance could result in higher costs for most seniors.

Obama, we should note, doesn’t have an apparent plan for Medicare beyond some cost control reforms in the health care act that delay insolvency. And while he has pledged comprehensive immigration reform, he inexplicably didn’t push for it as promised when Democrats were in control of the House and Senate. Instead, he later declared his administration would simply not enforce laws regarding children of immigrants.

Obama certainly has had accomplishments. Overseas, he has largely restored America’s standing in the world with a less bellicose approach to foreign policy. He gave the orders that killed Osama bin Laden, and he has weakened bin Laden’s al Qaida. At home, many economists feel his $787 billion stimulus in 2009 helped pull the country back from depression, and his managed bankruptcy bailout of U.S. automakers was the right move for Detroit and the economy as a whole.

Most significantly, the Affordable Care Act was an historic victory, providing the opportunities for insurance coverage to all Americans.

Obamacare also illustrates the biggest contrast between the president and his challenger. In words and some deeds, Obama has worked to protect vulnerable Americans – the uninsured, gays, the children of illegal immigrants. He’s governed with a philosophy that all Americans deserve at least the opportunity for success, and he’s advocated for tax reform and an educational infrastructure that would promote fairness.

The America he believes in celebrates the common good as well as the individual good. When the economy improves – and it will – the country needs a president with that agenda, with those values. We endorse Barack Obama for another four years.

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