Re-elect Obama President handled a tough situation fairly well; Romney offers no credible alternative

The question before presidential voters is simple: Who will better serve this country for the next four years, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama? When couched in straightforward terms, the answer is clear: President Obama should be re-elected.

Obama has done a reasonably good job handling an almost unprecedented economic mess — a situation that has proved far worse than anyone knew as it developed. Still, there is room for debate about the direction the country is headed.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party has offered no credible alternative. Its platform consists of little more than nostalgia for the 1950s, and its presidential candidate largely remains a mystery.

Romney has publicly demonstrated no core convictions beyond his obvious belief that he should be president. He apparently thinks that simply not being Obama is qualification enough.

It is not.

When Barack Obama took office, the country was mired in two wars, one pointless and neither properly funded. The economy was tanking and jobs were disappearing by the thousands. The automotive industry was on the verge of collapse — threatening to take with it the entire upper Midwest. And, while no one knew it at the time, the Middle East was about to explode into chaos and confusion.

On balance, Obama’s handling of all that has been good. U.S. forces have left Iraq and the end is in sight in Afghanistan. Muammar Gadhafi was ousted with no American troops involved. Democracy has a tenuous but real toehold in some Arab countries. And while the U.S. economy is recovering too slowly, it is recovering. As Vice President Joe Biden put it, Osama bin Laden is dead and GM is alive.

Amid all that, Obama kept a campaign promise and signed into law a sweeping health-care reform package.

All told, that is not a bad record. But in considering the way forward, Americans are always interested in alternative visions.

Mitt Romney, however, has not effectively offered one. Instead, this race has been presented as a referendum on the economy and the president’s personal style. Romney has failed to explain himself or his agenda, and the voters still do not really know who he is or how he would govern.

By all accounts, Romney’s Mormon faith is central to who he is. To listen to him campaign, however, one would never know that. His business acumen is touted as his core competence, but he will not release his tax records for more than a couple of years. He promises to cut taxes, increase defense spending, lower the deficit and make the seemingly impossible math work out by reforming the tax code. But he cannot, or will not, explain what those tax changes might be.

Romney rails against Obamacare, although it was modeled on the program he enacted as governor of Massachusetts. He governed that state as a moderate, but won the presidential nomination describing himself as “severely conservative.”

He has gone from supporting reproductive rights when running for the Senate in 1994 to saying in 2007 that he would gladly ban abortion in all cases. He now says he would allow exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother.

Romney has shown some consistency on other women’s health issues. He has repeatedly said he would strip Planned Parenthood of all funding and allow employers to exclude contraception from health-insurance coverage. He wants to talk about the economy but fails to understand that reproductive autonomy is an economic issue for women.

Barack Obama is an imperfect president, of course, and to what extent he can achieve his goals for the nation remains to be seen. But he has and can articulate a vision for a better, fairer, more successful America. His opponent offers nothing of the sort.

Vote to re-elect Barack Obama.