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President of the United States: Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney

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Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has captured America’s imagination in the past year, and perhaps that’s for the best. Unlike 2008, the vast majority of voters on Tuesday will have their eyes wide open, fully aware that there is no quick-change artist on the ballot, no miracle worker who in four years can heal our nation’s struggling economy, end the crisis in our public schools, and turn the federal budget from red to black.

We’re choosing a president, not a savior.

But someone’s hand must be on the national tiller for the next four years. Should it be a second-term Democrat whose "hope and change" plans were often scuttled by Congressional gridlock and his own tendency to lead from behind? Or should we opt for a Republican whose views have evolved considerably during his political career — and whose candidacy feels like an arranged marriage of conflicting ideologies, grudgingly agreed to by factions in a divided party?

Romney has the easier argument, because he can make his case on two grounds: Either America is heading in the wrong direction under President Obama, or we’re taking too long to get where he’s trying to take us. Regardless, Romney would change the nation’s course, moving us toward a smaller federal government, greater autonomy for states, less investment in green energy and environmental protection, an increased emphasis on personal responsibility, and renewed faith in "trickle-down" economics.

The president must counter with a plea for patience. That’s a tough case to make in a wireless nation that’s accustomed to instant gratification, but the president can claim that we’re on the right track. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which was below 8,000 on Obama’s inauguration day, is now above 13,000. Unemployment, after topping out at 10 percent just eight months into Obama’s presidency, has declined steadily since then, to 7.9 percent as of one day ago.

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We can’t, however, give Obama much credit for those numbers, because America’s economy is largely beyond the control of any one person. Conversely, we are disinclined to blame him for our soaring national debt, which was fueled by greed on Wall Street, irresponsible mortgage lenders and two wars Obama didn’t start. Given the choice between borrowed bailouts or a national economic meltdown with global ramifications, we give Obama credit for choosing the former — and we firmly believe that Romney, if faced with similar circumstances, would have done exactly the same thing.

That’s speculation, of course, but speculation is often required of voters when evaluating a political challenger. And as we consider Romney’s campaign, we can’t help but notice that we have to do quite a bit of guessing when we envision him as president, because his criticisms of Obama’s policies seldom have been accompanied by specific alternatives.

What would Romney have done differently in Afghanistan? He hasn’t said. Likewise, he’s complained about Obama’s lack of aggressive action against Iran, but hasn’t revealed how he would have halted that nation’s quest for nuclear weapons. Second-guessing is easy, but policy-making  is quite another matter.

On the domestic front, another huge gap in our knowledge of Mitt Romney is how he would balance the budget. He’s blasted the president’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy while also reducing spending, and instead offers a plan to eliminate the estate tax, cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and make permanent the "Bush tax cuts."

Those ideas appeal to plenty of voters. After all, who wouldn’t like lower taxes?  But when asked repeatedly for specific tax loopholes and deductions that would be closed or eliminated to offset the budgetary impact of these tax cuts, Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, have said very little.

That’s troubling. It leaves us to conclude that either they don’t know which loopholes would go away, or they’re afraid to tell voters the truth.

Ultimately, however, it isn’t these uncertainties that trouble us most as we consider a Romney presidency; rather, it’s what we know he would do. Time and time again throughout this campaign, he has stated without equivocation that his first priority would be a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

He wouldn’t try to tweak it. He’s never said that he’d give it some time to play out, to figure out what works and what doesn’t. No, his goal would be to nix Obamacare (perhaps later recycling a popular provision or two) — and thus, in the eyes of Republicans, Romney could symbolically nullify the Obama presidency.

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That’s a poor goal for a potential president. America didn’t become a great nation by looking backward, by electing leaders who were bent on rewriting their predecessors’ legacies. On a president’s first day in office, when his political capital is at its highest, he or she should have the largest of aspirations, with a vision of how to take the nation to greater heights.

Barack Obama had such a vision when he took office four years ago. It was a vision for an America in which people didn’t lose their homes because a child or spouse got sick. It was a vision for an America in which foreign policy was built on a foundation of diplomacy and respect, yet underpinned with the resolve to hunt down and eliminate those who target us. It was a vision for an America in which people paid their fair share of taxes, confident that if and when the need arose, the government would help them out in times of trouble.

Circumstances and partisanship — including many in Congress who’ve spent four years working toward Obama’s defeat on Tuesday — have taken a toll on that vision and on our now-gray-haired leader. The recovery has been slower than we and he had hoped for. There are jobs to be had, but not enough people are being trained for them. Home values are rising and foreclosures are declining, but far too many people remain upside-down on their mortgages.

Our country faces serious problems, and we need a principled leader who can compromise without abandoning his core values — and today, despite everything that’s happened in the past four years, we still know who Barack Obama is and what he stands for.

The Post-Bulletin editorial board endorses Barack Obama for a second term as president of the United States of America.

It’s a gamble. Obama will likely face a Republican-controlled House and the same gridlock that slowed the momentum of his first term. And with the so-called "fiscal cliff" approaching, we can’t afford much more gamesmanship in Washington.

But it’s a risk we’re willing to take. We support the Affordable Care Act and want it to have a chance to succeed. We want the windmills and solar panels to keep going up in southern Minnesota and across the nation. We want a farm bill that gives farmers the certainty they need and ensures that America’s children don’t go hungry. We want to protect the environment from those who scoff at global warming science even as a tenth of our nation is still reeling in the aftermath of the latest "storm of the century." And yes, we want the Federal Emergency Management Agency to remain fully intact, ready to step in when disaster strikes and a city or state is overwhelmed.

We want serious conversations that lead to real progress toward immigration reform, rather than proposals that feature plenty of walls but few real ideas. We want Social Security and Medicare to remain as rock-solid guarantees for our senior citizens — not as handouts or "entitlements," but as the well-deserved rewards for lives spent working and paying into the system that supported their parents and grandparents. We want to see a debt-reduction plan that combines spending cuts with targeted tax increases and an end to the loopholes that allow corporations to hide profits, even as they ship American jobs overseas.

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In short, we’d like Barack Obama to have a chance to finish what he started. 

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