Politicians say what they think voters want to hear. Still, it's disappointing that neither candidate for president is preparing Americans for hard choices ahead.
Separating rhetoric from reality is especially difficult when considering Republican Mitt Romney, because he has espoused so many conflicting positions. From abortion to taxes and trade with China, he has been all over the map.
Romney's a great salesman, but it's impossible to know what he's selling or predict what he would do if elected. This makes him a risky choice.
Barack Obama has a record as president, and though he has not led us to his post-partisan promised land, he has provided steady, principled leadership during an economic crisis.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Obama's approach — tax cuts for working people and businesses combined with stimulus spending — pulled us back from a depression. If you doubt it, look at Europe which chose austerity over stimulus and keeps sliding back into recession, while the U.S. economy slowly digs out of a very deep hole.
Kentucky received an estimated $7 billion in direct aid and tax cuts through the stimulus. Without that help, unemployment and human suffering would be much worse.
Despite Republicans' determination to deny him any victories, Obama has a list of accomplishments that speak well for his priorities: Consumers have new protections against rip-offs by credit card and mortgage companies. The student loan program is freeing up $62 billion over 10 years by cutting out banks as subsidized middlemen. (Romney wants to reinstate the banks and subsidies.) Obama also gave graduates longer to repay loans, making it affordable for them to work in public service jobs such as teaching.
Americans will no longer have to die or go broke because they fall ill or injured. Modeled on a Republican plan that Romney signed as Massachusetts governor, the Affordable Care Act is coming on line slowly, but already in Kentucky, 48,000 young adults have gained coverage and 477,953 Medicare recipients have received free preventive care. This year 249,275 Kentuckians will receive rebates totaling $15 million; eventually almost 700,000 uninsured Kentuckians could gain coverage.
As for protecting America from external threats, Obama has been smart and strong, as evidenced by Romney's embrace of Obama's foreign policy in their last debate. That might have been just for public consumption, though; Romney has surrounded himself with belligerent neoconservative advisors who led the previous president disastrously astray.
On an issue dear to Kentucky, Obama has been scapegoated for market forces that are depressing demand for coal and miners. More relevant is Romney's contempt for 47 percent of Americans who don't pay U.S. income taxes, including working poor and elderly Kentuckians who are doing their best in places that prosperity has bypassed.
Romney, who is worth $250 million and refuses to release all his tax returns, wants government to protect people like him, in hopes their wealth will trickle down to others. He blames Obama for debt due to tax cuts, two wars and a recession that Obama inherited.
Dealing with that debt is one of the hard choices awaiting the next president and Congress, along with controlling health care costs, achieving an energy policy and international accord that don't fry the planet, rebuilding infrastructure, investing in human capital and negotiating dangerous international currents.
Few politicians, including these two, are willing to declare that we can't have a great country on the cheap or without sacrifice.
But of the two men seeking the presidency, only one can be trusted to look out for all Americans as these tough choices are made. Voters should choose Barack Obama.