Where’s the Policy? Candidates Leave Us Guessing

Community members hung prayer cards at the Quaker Meeting House in memory of 9/11 victims
President Obama and Governor Romney each seek to cast 2012 as the most important election year in modern memory — Obama by claiming that the middle class will suffer under his opponent and Romney by forecasting a fiscal crisis in a second Obama term. Each presents the election as a choice between two distinct paths for the country guided by opposing game plans…but keeps the country in the dark regarding the play-by-play.Obama and Romney are correct on one thing — 2012 is the most important election year of the modern era. The national debt recently left the $16 trillion mark in the dust, and yearly deficits continue to exceed the trillion-dollar mark. Yet despite excessive spending, our economy remains stagnant, with the unemployment rate only falling because more Americans are giving up looking for work. Soaring unemployment and un-payable debt started World War II in Germany. Making the wrong choice in 2012 could mean disaster for the American economy.How wonderful it would be if America knew what its choices were.

Romney in particular has made fiscal issues a centerpiece of his campaign. He speaks extensively of reforming the tax code to cut rates (to stimulate the economy) and to close loopholes (to raise revenue). However, Romney has failed to specify which loopholes he will close, leaving the claim that his plan is revenue-neutral unverifiable. In the true spirit of negative campaigning, Obama has latched on to this and purported that the loopholes closed are those that benefit the middle class, therefore equating Romney’s plan with a tax increase for average families. Despite this pressure, Romney still does not reveal the hard facts of his tax plan — which loopholes he will close, how much revenue he will raise. America should demand to see the numbers.

Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, at least has a plan to control runaway entitlement spending. But despite Republican emphasis on balancing the budget, the numbers still don’t match up – at least until Ryan shows the rest of his hand.

As murky as the Romney campaign has been, though, the Obama campaign is even worse. The President entertains a deluded fantasy that raising taxes on millionaires will somehow jumpstart our economy, pay down the national debt and fund a whole set of new government handouts. Once again, the question is: where are the numbers? The President’s proposed “Buffett Rule” will raise a paltry $4.7 billion per year against trillion-dollar deficits. Yet Obama continues to press a millionaire’s tax as if it were the central part of his plan for the next four years.

Which it is. While Romney has at least given a vague sketch of his fiscal plan, Obama presents only rhetoric. His convention speech was full of promises with no clues as to how he will achieve them. Obama bashed Ryan extensively for his attempts to reform Medicare, but has failed to let America in on the grand secret of how he will keep these entitlement programs solvent. And when it comes to reviving the economy, Obama hasn’t even indicated a direction — will he cut taxes on businesses or continue his theme of government stimulus? And once he chooses one, the question remains – where are the numbers?

In short, both candidates promise to cut the deficit by reining in spending and potentially a paltry amount of new revenue. They promise to halve the unemployment rate and keep taxes on the middle class low. They promise the sun and the moon. They promise to put America back on top again.

But they continue to dodge the eternal question of how they will do it. And that’s because doing it all is impossible. When you lay out the numbers, cutting the deficit and revving up the economy are incompatible. There is no solution that will satisfyingly doing both before the 2016 election — the numbers simply don’t add up. The candidates can’t do it all, and they know it, but saying that to the American people would be political suicide. So they continue to rely on empty promises to carry them through November 6.

America should be outraged. As both candidates have said, 2012 is a critical election, one that will possibly determine whether the world economy survives this time of global uncertainty. The man who wins the presidency will have dire choices before him, and America deserves to know what his decisions will be. So let us ask the candidates one more time, where are the numbers? And where are they going to lead us?

A Different View
In a political lens, vagueness isn’t the worst thing

We have a general idea of where Obama and Romney are going. It would be nice to hear more, but it’s not a necessity.

Many have criticized Romney for not stating which tax loopholes he will close in his plan. Many of those loopholes are likely ones that benefit special interests with powerful Washington lobbyists. If Romney announces which loopholes he will close now, those lobbyists will have months to bulwark their clients’ interests, so that by the time President Romney presents his plan to Congress, it may be impossible to pass.

Obama, meanwhile, must play to the progressive base who elevated him to the presidency in the first place. Economy-stimulating ideas like cutting the corporate tax rate might alienate him to the far left, costing him votes and campaign contributions. In fact, both candidates likely have in mind politically unpopular but necessary proposals to fix our fiscal problems, but fear to say them on the campaign trail. Look at the way Paul Ryan got flayed by both sides of the aisle for his proposed cuts to Medicare.

However, just because the candidates aren’t vocal about their ideas doesn’t mean those ideas don’t exist. Campaigning and governing are two very different arenas. In the end, we must trust our leaders to do the right thing.

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