During the close of the 2008 presidential election campaign, John McCain was unable to finally and persuasively and understandably give Americans a vision of where he wanted to lead them should he become the 44th president of the United States. Here is McCain flailing at the beginning of the first presidential debate against Barack Obama:
This isn’t the beginning of the end of this crisis. This is the end of the beginning, if we come out with a package that will keep these institutions stable. And we’ve got a lot of work to do. And we’ve got to create jobs. And one of the areas, of course, is to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil.
Well, he was dead solid about one thing: it really was just the end of the beginning of the crisis. Now, three years later, the U.S. economy is no longer paralyzed. But that’s about it, really. It can sit up in bed but remains unable to get out of bed.
A new report from consulting firm IHS Global Insight, hardly atypical of the sort of analysis I see lately, sees GDP growth of just 1.6 percent this year, 1.9 percent next year and 2.2 percent in 2013 with the unemployment rate stuck around 9 percent the entire period. No wonder consumer confidence is at its lowest levels since 1980, the nadir of the national electoral misadventure known as the Jimmy Carter Experiment.
And if the European sovereign debt situation really breaks down, there’s a chance that whoever takes the oath of office in January 2013 could face as bleak an economic landscape as Obama did in January 2009.
Which leads us to last night’s Republican presidential debate in Ames, Iowa. Who won? I suppose from a purely political perspective, frontrunner Mitt Romney remained unscathed and Michele Bachmann bested caucus rival Tim Pawlenty. But no one on stage came close to providing a holistic approach to America’s ills or even hinted that they had one. Romney did the best on that score:
What needs to be done — there are really seven things that come to mind. One is to make sure our corporate tax rates are competitive with other nations. Number two is to make sure that our regulations and bureaucracy works not just for the bureaucrats in Washington, but for the businesses that are trying to grow. Number three is to have trade policies that work for us, not just for our opponents. Number four is to have an energy policy that gets us energy secure. Number five is to have the rule of law. Six, great institutions that build human capital, because capitalism is also about people, not just capital and physical goods. And number seven is to have a government that doesn’t spend more money than it takes in. And I’ll do it.
Hopefully, there are comprehensive plans behind each of these PowerPoint bullets. But I remain unsure what all those points add up to. What does Romney’s America look like? Or Bachmann’s. Or Rick Perry’s. Again, let me refer to a recent op-ed written by Jeb Bush and Kevin Warsh:
Stronger economic growth is not just about economics. Growth unleashes human potential. It turns personal aspirations into positive achievements. And it lays the predicate for a better, stronger, more prosperous and opportunity-filled America. Our weak economic recovery has dashed the hopes and dimmed the prospects of too many of our citizens. And it has put America’s place in the world at risk.
We should resist the temptation to wrangle with the green eyeshade folks who question our prospects. Instead, we must take actions that demonstrate our resolve and resiliency. We must restore our faith in growth economics and reform our policies accordingly. This will bring strength to our markets and reaffirm our place in the world.
Now that’s winning the future.