America deserves better.

If only this year’s presidential candidates were as focused on global competitiveness as are America’s business leaders, the world’s most important economy and democracy would already have become the “Comeback Kid,” portrayed on this week’s Economist cover as a muscle-bound Uncle Sam.

We are witnessing the most expensive and one of the most negative presidential contests in U.S. history. Thus far it is serving little purpose aside from enriching  the advertising industry.

With global economic growth waning, the euro zone imploding and America approaching a fiscal cliff, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney remain on the low road of ad hominem attacks that badly serve Americans and the world.

The most crucial question for American centrists, who are likely to decide this November’s elections (and I count myself as a card-carrying member), is whether Obama or Romney can reverse the dangerous signs of eroding U.S. competitiveness and shore up the beginnings of an economic resurgence.

It is a question of historic significance.

Just as the best candidate during the four decades of the Cold War era was the one who most clearly understood how to tap America’s dynamism and stare down a very real Soviet threat (Ronald Reagan fit that bill), today’s most effective president will be the one who can best navigate a similarly extended period that is shaping up to be an era of global competition.