Can we have a third candidate?

Romney won the debate, but in addition to Obama, it was the country that lost. Romney had more energy, spoke more fluently, had better zingers, was more focused, seemed to have a better understanding of the issues and a better grasp of facts, showed more empathy with the voters, and demonstrated a better sense of ...

J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images
J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images
J. DAVID AKE/AFP/Getty Images

Romney won the debate, but in addition to Obama, it was the country that lost.

Romney had more energy, spoke more fluently, had better zingers, was more focused, seemed to have a better understanding of the issues and a better grasp of facts, showed more empathy with the voters, and demonstrated a better sense of humor. Obama looked and acted as if he really wanted to be someplace else -- maybe celebrating his wedding anniversary. His delivery was hesitant and halting. He got bogged down in minutiae, never hit any of Romney's weak points, presented no compelling vision for a second term, and made claims that could easily be shown to be factually fuzzy.

Romney won the debate, but in addition to Obama, it was the country that lost.

Romney had more energy, spoke more fluently, had better zingers, was more focused, seemed to have a better understanding of the issues and a better grasp of facts, showed more empathy with the voters, and demonstrated a better sense of humor. Obama looked and acted as if he really wanted to be someplace else — maybe celebrating his wedding anniversary. His delivery was hesitant and halting. He got bogged down in minutiae, never hit any of Romney’s weak points, presented no compelling vision for a second term, and made claims that could easily be shown to be factually fuzzy.

But how could we have both presidential candidates spend an hour talking about the economy and job creation without mentioning the loss of U.S. international competitiveness, the continuing chronic U.S. trade deficit, the off-shoring of U.S. jobs and technology, the low rate of U.S. investment compared to countries like China and Germany, and the abysmal state of U.S. infrastructure compared to other leading countries?. How could there be a discussion of the economy without any questions about national priorities and without any comment on the impact of America’s role as the international hegemon and provider of global security on its ability to keep delivering the American dream?

The statistics show very clearly that the United States has been suffering loss of competitiveness and stagnation and even decline of living standards for a very long time. Insanity has sometimes been defined as continuing to act in a particular way while expecting a different result. Neither of these candidates showed any awareness of the deep underlying currents that continue to erode the country’s productive capabilities. Despite the sound and fury, the differences between the were very small. Romney said he wouldn’t raise tax rates on the wealthy while Obama said he’d move the rate on the rich from 35 to 40 percent. Big deal. I can remember when it was 90 percent and the rich cheered when Ronald Reagan got their rate reduced to 50 percent. Neither candidate showed any signs of wanting to adopt a completely new game plan for America, of wanting, for example, to make economic competitiveness the nation’s top priority in place of military dominance or of wanting to develop strategic economic policies in parallel with geo-political strategies.   

In short, both are playing essentially the same old game while expecting and predicting that they will produce new and different results. They won’t. Regardless of which one is eventually elected, there is unlikely to be any substantial change in policies or results. So the  country will just continue on with its present insane and unsustainable priorities and policies.

Where is Ross Perot when we need him?

Clyde Prestowitz is the founder and president of the Economic Strategy Institute, a former counselor to the secretary of commerce in the Reagan administration, and the author of The World Turned Upside Down: America, China, and the Struggle for Global Leadership. Twitter: @clydeprestowitz

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.