SILENCE OF THE CANDIDATES
Now that the campaign has reached its first debate and, possibly, its final pivotal moment, we hope the candidates will devote more attention to the future: specifically, to what they hope to accomplish over the next four years. ... Both candidates portray this election as a stark choice between radically different governing philosophies, and we tend to think that is true. But each has been more eager to scare voters about his opponent’s worldview than to explain how his own could cope with 21st-century problems. Slow economic growth, rising inequality, uncapped entitlement spending, suffocating debt: None of these is inevitable for the nation. But they are the endpoint of our current path. Voters have a right to hear how their leaders would avert these outcomes.
THE ZINGER CANDIDATE
At a time when even his fondest supporters are pleading for more substance, Mitt Romney is giving them the political equivalent of junk food. His has been the Zinger candidacy — all sugary platitudes, no protein. ... Wednesday night’s debate offers Romney his best chance to change the trajectory of a race that seems to be favoring the incumbent. But Romney’s inclination was to stick with the zing thing. ...A well-landed zinger can be memorable, such as Reagan’s promise not to exploit Walter Mondale’s “youth and inexperience,” Mondale’s “Where’s the beef?” or Lloyd Bentsen’s “You’re no Jack Kennedy” to Dan Quayle. But for each of those, there are many failed attempts in which a candidate’s line sounds forced and canned — a risk increased by Romney memorizing zingers fed to him by aides.
CANDIDATES IN THE RING
Voters should know all they need to know about Obama — including the possibility that he isn’t the leader that a majority hoped he would be — yet there’s still a chance he may reveal something that tips the scale toward Romney. Will he gaze down his nose at Romney the way he did Hillary Clinton? We want to see. Romney enters the ring with a tattered campaign dragging behind him like tin cans on a rusted-out honeymoon coupe. His once-sterling reputation has been tarnished by the perception that he is awkward and callous. ... The conventional wisdom is that Romney has to slay his opponent or the election is really, really over, this time for sure. Even a slight bounce for Obama is viewed as certain victory in five weeks. By contrast, according to this same wisdom, a Romney victory guarantees only that he’s in the game until the next debate.
A REFERENDUM ON ROMNEY
How could someone whose stock in trade was his very CEO- ness let things get so bad? Romney has probably been thinking about running for president for more than four decades, since his father’s defeat in 1968. He has spent the better part of the last six years actually running for president. Yet he has managed to bungle the main message of his campaign. Now this election is a referendum not on the incumbent, but on the challenger. And Romney has to show that he is more competent than his campaign. ...He has to show that he understands the lives of the people he would lead (or is “likeable enough,” as Obama said of Hillary Clinton), and that he is the better person to run the country. Romney brought this burden on himself. As for Obama? All he has to do is show that Romney may be a nice guy, but he just isn’t up to the job.