On Nov. 6, Americans will vote in a presidential election that President Barack Obama has described as "the clearest choice of any time in a generation." Mitt's Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, has called it a "generation-defining moment."
The American people seem to agree. More than four years into an economic malaise that stubbornly persists despite signs of modest improvement, the prevailing sense in some quarters is that the nation's best days are past.
In ordinary times, the remedy might be to scrap the Democratic administration and vote in Mr. Romney's Republican alternative. But these are instead extraordinary times of hardship and challenge. The same recession that decimated American jobs also gave birth to a strain of far-right politics -- the compromise-averse Tea Party movement -- that has come to dominate the Republican Party.
When Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he was known as a moderate. But that man has disappeared and no new shake of the Etch A Sketch can bring him back. Despite this long campaign it's hard to know what he believes besides the fact that he believes he should be president.
In making his case to be the nominee for his radically more conservative party, Mr. Romney had to pretend to be someone he wasn't. As part of this makeover, he has promised to scuttle Obamacare, even though it was modeled after his own successful state health care plan, and with only vague notions of how to replace it.
Driven by the political need to repudiate Mr. Obama's bailouts, he stooped so low as to say he would have allowed a large part of the auto industry in Michigan, where he grew up, to go into bankruptcy, which would have doomed it along with millions of jobs. This was not his father's Republicanism.
Because they have been such implacable critics of Mr. Obama's policies, we know what the Republicans would have done -- and by extension now, Mr. Romney will do -- with control of the White House. There will be no stimulus money for jobs, regulations will be cut back severely on the environment and Wall Street (where the recession was hatched due to loose rules in the first place) and, of course, the well-to-do will be showered with tax cuts.
With a Romney victory, the nation would return to the fiction of the George W. Bush years -- that taxes could be slashed, revenues wouldn't suffer and the deficit wouldn't swell. Mr. Romney says he can cut tax rates for individuals by 20 percent by removing certain deductions, but he won't say clearly what they are. This is ideological alchemy in search of fool's gold. The less polite term is baloney.
As the Simpson-Bowles commission concluded, the key to reducing the deficit is a combination of spending cuts and tax increases in conjunction with tax reform.
Not so fast. Mitt Romney and Republicans of all stripes are sworn never to raise taxes, so spending cuts are the only alternative. But Mr. Romney also promises to protect the notoriously wasteful military budget, which could be cut without jeopardizing national security. That leaves few options, so people on Social Security and Medicare better beware. All the reassurances about Mr. Romney's intentions to preserve these programs and others stand mute before the math.
To be sure, President Barack Obama has made mistakes and has disappointed some of his supporters, but the Great Recession, no more than the Great Depression, wasn't going to go away with a wave of the president's hand or melt before his optimism.
The fact that progress has lagged behind public patience is not the measure of Mr. Obama's record; the greater reality is that he came into office when the nation was pole-axed and on its knees. Now the great engine of the economy, which Obama policies kept cranking, is sputtering into life.
The president's first priority is jobs. His next must be trimming the deficit as the economy returns to good health. Mr. Obama is better placed to do this; he has taken no vow that rules out one of the key options. Taxing wealthy people is not the entire answer, but it is part. When cuts in domestic programs are made, as they must be, the poorest Americans cannot be made to suffer so that billionaires can get another break. That is neither good domestic policy nor simple fairness.
Overseas, while the Arab Spring is beyond the power of any administration to control, the national security of the United States has generally been handled in a solid and mature manner (thank you, Hillary Clinton), without the bluster and swagger of past years.
America's enemies would not agree with Mitt Romney's criticism that the nation has begun to look weak. That fiction can be refuted in a few words: Osama bin Laden is dead. As revealed in the last debate, the truth is that Mr. Romney knows very little about foreign affairs and what he does know is not far from the policies of the Obama administration.
This well may be a generation-defining moment. What will America's future be? Will this still be a land of opportunity and freedom for all people or just for the favored few? Because we still hope, we endorse for president Barack Obama, whose heart -- unlike his challenger -- has not wavered nor his principles changed.