Debra J. Saunders
President Barack Obama is charismatic and inspiring, but he won office too early in his career, and he is a victim of his own success. Sweeping into office with majorities in the Senate and House, Obama quickly passed a Democrats-only stimulus package that didn't deliver as promised. Then he signed a health care package that increased the burden of health care on private employers and failed to attract a single GOP vote.

Obama's Affordable Care Act helped unseat moderate and other Democrats who had voted for the package, handing the House to Republicans. Suddenly, Obama had to work across the aisle. He reached out to House Speaker John Boehner in an effort to negotiate a "grand bargain," but his insistence on raising taxes on families earning $250,000 or more sabotaged the effort. Obama could have pushed for tax reform as a means to raise revenue. Instead, he clung to a gimmick that would do next to nothing to dent the $16 trillion national debt -- it would fund government for about a week -- and was doomed to fail in the House. It's not even clear that Democrats, excluded from his talks, would have supported the Obama tax hike.

As long as Obama insists on this particular tax hike, there can be no deal to stop the country from going over the "fiscal cliff" -- a tax increase on 90 percent of households, along with mandated spending cuts -- on Jan. 1. The president won't change course, even though the threat of the fiscal cliff scares employers who otherwise might hire new workers.

Undaunted, Obama told The Des Moines Register on Tuesday that going over the fiscal cliff "will probably be messy" but that it is essential to position Washington so he can get a "grand bargain." Obama wants to take the U.S. economy over the cliff so that he can save it later.

In 2012, voters have a choice between an incumbent who has given up until 2013 and a challenger who just doesn't quit.

Mitt Romney is far from a perfect candidate. He ran as a socially moderate fiscal conservative when he campaigned to replace Ted Kennedy as senator in 1994 and to be governor of Massachusetts in 2002. When he pivoted to run for the White House, he transformed himself from Massachusetts Republican to traditional-values anti-maverick Republican.

If Romney has changed, it is in part because of a personal journey that often brought a reserved man outside of his comfort zone -- Stanford during the anti-war era, France as a Mormon missionary, Harvard's law and business schools. Romney put down roots in Massachusetts. If Romney came of age sticking to his bedrock values, he did so acutely aware of a world that did not share his beliefs and fiercely protected the right to flout them.

Debra J. Saunders

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