The dueling platforms from the president and the GOP front-runner are both disappointing. But one is much more disappointing than the other.
Barack Obama is going to save America's middle class by taxing the rich and fostering an American manufacturing renaissance. Mitt Romney is going to revive it by creating more jobs for women and rewarding successful people instead of punishing them.
Welcome to the so-far deeply disappointing 2012 general election. This week's middle-class-related broadsides from both campaigns bordered on the comic.
Obama's promoting of the Buffett Rule in Florida on Tuesday was smart politics, but the measure is unlikely to create jobs or significantly reduce the deficit. Even liberal pundits assailed it as an election-year "gimmick."
And Obama's concept of reviving American manufacturing is politically appealing but completely untested. As my colleague Chrystia Freeland noted, it flies in the face of decades of Anglo-American conventional wisdom that state interventions in the economy inevitably fail. Whether Obama is right or wrong will not be known before Election Day.
Romney, meanwhile, used a piece of carefully selected economic data to try to attack a 19-percentage-point advantage Obama enjoys among female voters. On Tuesday, he toured a Delaware company that has a female CEO and said women have suffered 92.3 percent of job losses since Obama took office in January 2009. Within hours, the figure, while technically accurate, was criticized as misleading.
Since the recession began in December 2007, men have lost 3.3 million jobs and women have lost 1.2 million jobs, according to the New York Times Economix blog. The surge in job losses among women is primarily due to cuts in the female-dominated government sector. Those reductions were backed by Republicans, not Democrats.
TWO BIG LIES
Both campaigns can - and must - do better. A deeply shaken American middle class is yearning for honest debate and realistic approaches to the country's economic and fiscal dilemmas.
The far left and far right have gotten louder thanks to Fox, MSNBC and the corporate owners of those media outlets, which profit financially from the division they sow. But I believe Middle America - and the independent voters who will decide the election - will award the White House to the candidate who shows the most pragmatism and political courage.
In truth, there are no simple answers when it comes to helping the middle class or understanding what is happening to it. No official U.S. government definition of the "middle class" exists. Nor does a consensus: Democrats say the middle class is in free fall, while Republicans insist it is doing just fine.
Whatever is occurring, public opinion polls show deep unease in Middle America. An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted last week found that 76 percent of Americans believe the country is still in recession and 68 percent think it is headed in the wrong direction.