There was little difference in their economic agendas anyway, but on the message meter, Obama comes off as far more upbeat about the future, with a we-can-do-better challenge for the nation to set its sights on larger goals and ending the polarization that has paralyzed Washington in gridlock.
"I would say overall that few people are more bullish for the long term of the country and the economy than Obama," his adviser, University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee, told me last week.
When Obama talks euphemistically about "turning the page" and "not going back to refight past battles," he is talking about the bitter, polarizing, scandal-ridden era of the Clinton presidency. With his numbers rising and Clinton's eroding, his more optimistic view of the economy's future seems to be gaining ground among Democrats who want to move on.
In the meantime, the focus in Washington has turned to an economic-stimulus package that can put some liquidity into the hands of consumers to soften the downturn in the economy.
Bush's plan, still in its embryonic stage, will call for rebates of $300 to $500 to taxpayers, and temporary tax breaks for businesses to write off the cost of equipment and plant purchases more quickly.
This is not a plan for long-term growth, because every dollar the feds rebate "must first be taxed or borrowed out of the economy," said fiscal analyst Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation.
"No new spending is created. It is merely redistributed from one group of people to another," he said in a memo that is being widely studied on Capitol Hill.
What the economy needs is a new round of tax-cut incentives to unlock investment capital for business expansion that will encourage new wealth creation: Cutting the corporate tax rates, as New York Democrat Charlie Rangel proposed, cutting the capital-gains rate, as Romney suggested, and long-term tax cuts for small businesses that create most of the jobs in our economy.
But the president and congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle want to pass something sooner rather than delaying action while they fight over long-held differences on tax policy. Both sides support tax rebates and faster business depreciation schedules, so that is what is likely to be enacted within the next month.
Long-term economic-growth policy will have to be thrashed out once again in the presidential campaign.
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