Don't be apathetic, they tell us. If you don't vote, you can't complain. But how can people get excited about a political campaign that doesn't address the issues we care about most?
Polls show that Americans are more concerned about the economy than any other issue. That has been the case since Barack Obama became president in 2009.
Neither Obama nor Mitt Romney have put forth credible plans for getting the unemployed back to work--and forget about underemployment.
Obama says he inherited a mess. He's right. His supporters say climbing out of the hole created by the 2008 meltdown and George W. Bush's deficit spending will take time. Which is true. But he never proposed a jobs program.
Bizarrely, the president doesn't explicitly promise that the economy will get better if we re-elect him. His campaign is mostly pointing to his achievements so far.
Say this for Romney: He doesn't share the president's reticence. "If I become president, you're going to see an economic resurgence: manufacturing resurgence, high-tech, health care. You're going to see this economy take off," Romney told supporters in New Jersey last month. "And I say that because I know what I'm going to do, and I know what kind of impact it will have."
Romney's ads strike the same can-do tone. "By day 100, President Romney's leadership brings new certainty to our economy, and the promise of new banking and high-tech jobs."
Whoa. How will this miracle transpire? Romney has put forth what John Cassidy of The New Yorker calls a "ragtag collection of proposals--59 of them, ranging from eliminating the inheritance tax, to capping federal spending at 20 percent of GDP, to opening up America's energy reserves for development, [which have been] widely dismissed as inadequate by his fellow Republicans."
Trickle-down redux. Warmed-over drill-baby-drill Sarahcuda. A dash of Steve Forbes. In short: not so whoa.
If I were Romney, I'd be proposing a conservative-based jobs-growth agenda. Tax incentives for employers to hire new workers. Federal subsidies for job-training programs. Higher payroll deductions for corporations.
Romney could shore up his party's nativist base by promising to build a fence along the Mexican border and to crack down on undocumented workers.
Thanks to the Republican Congress, it would be easy for Obama to say he's trying to create jobs. He could propose something bold, a new WPA directly employing 20 million Americans. It's a promise he wouldn't have to keep. The GOP would block it.
Obama could also pursue small-bore approaches to the jobs problem, such as a "first fired, first rehired" law. The United States should join European countries, which don't set time limits on unemployment benefits.
Would these ideas fix the economy? Maybe not. But they would certainly go a long way toward reversing the toxic state of electoral politics, in which parties float irrelevant wedge issues in their perennial battle over 2 or 3 percent of the vote in a handful of swing states.
Will either party push a credible solution to the economic crisis? Probably not. Which is a reflection of the system's inability to reform itself, and a harbinger of change to come.