America's problems are huge but Obama and Romney seem small

It was inevitable that a left-leaning news organization would be the first to inject politics into the Colorado massacre story. ABC News performed down to type by reporting shortly after 8 a.m. Friday that the shooter was a registered member of the Tea Party.

The scoop alert soon was followed by a backtrack, then a full apology for smearing the wrong man. So it goes in hyper-politicized America, where every piece of cultural flotsam and jetsam is autopsied for its affiliations, as if politics explains everything.

Thankfully, President Obama and Mitt Romney struck more appropriate notes for this horrific event. They spoke somberly and briefly in stressing that this was not the time for campaigning before retreating from the public stage.

They will reemerge soon enough, but it will be to their credit and the nation’s benefit if the mourning period marks the start of a new and improved race for the White House. So far, they’ve given us mostly a demolition derby, with occasional interruptions for trivial pursuits. Inspiration and information are AWOL.

The result is a dispiriting standoff. The race is tied largely because neither man seems up to the awesome responsibilities of the job they are so desperately seeking.

This is not a plea for a battle over gun rights, as some urge, or a wish that the campaign be hijacked by a single, horrible event. That will do nothing to cure what really ails America.

Instead, this is a time to talk about big problems and offer big solutions. Above all, it is a time for the candidates to be honest about the fundamental threats facing the nation.

With 23 million Americans out of work or underemployed, and with disability becoming the new welfare, the jobs crisis is changing the character of the country for the worst. Deficits, debt and run-away entitlement costs are sapping our economic might, yet a kind of magical thinking prevails, as if we are exempt from the forces bringing Europe to its knees.

As vapid as the campaign has been on those fronts, foreign policy has gotten the shaft altogether. The world feels like a more dangerous place than it did even a year ago, yet Obama and Romney mention Iran, Syria, North Korea, China and Russia only when events force their hand.

I will not pretend to believe the incumbent and the challenger are equally to blame. The president holds a singular responsibility, but Obama has run a shameful campaign that aims to make the race about anything except the big things. His record works against him, so he wants to focus voters’ attention on molehills instead of the mountain. His use of the Oval Office for special-interest bailouts and favors has made many people question whether he is intentionally trying to weaken America’s foundations.

Romney’s main contribution to the disappointment has been his frustrating habit of talking about the big issues in such general terms that it’s obvious he hopes to avoid taking any stance that makes him vulnerable. He’s playing defense to win an election when voters demand a man with a plan.

Four years ago, Obama denounced “the smallness of our politics.” He was right then, but now he’s playing the smallest ball of all.

Romney, too, is more content to complain while neglecting his power to force a contest on the big issues. He needs the courage to go first, and Obama eventually will have to engage.

The awful events in Colorado remind us again that we live in a troubled era. May those events inspire the candidates to meet the challenge of proving they’re ready to lead America to a better day.

State & city pols fall down on jobs

Something’s rotten in the state of New York, and the city, too.

Even as Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg trumpet job gains, the unemployment rate is soaring. State and city rates are now far above the national average, and the gap is growing.

The state rate rose to 8.9 percent last month, and the city hit a whopping 10 percent, the highest since February 2010. The national rate is 8.2 percent.

Although both city and state climbed by .3 percent in June, officials saw the stats through rose-colored glasses. The state Department of Labor boasted that “New York Continues Job Growth, Adding 15,400 Private Sector Jobs.”

It even managed to see good news in the unemployment hike, saying more than 100,000 had entered the job market in a year because “people have more confidence in the economy.” Yes, any more confidence like that and we’ll all be sunk.

Two-thirds of the added jobs were in the city, and Bloomberg echoed the happy talk, saying the increase in job seekers “indicates optimism and confidence.”

Maybe. Or maybe the pols see the glass as half-full because they’re clueless about the other half.

After all, the nation as a whole has been creating jobs, but its unemployment rate isn’t rising. So it’s not clear there is any good reason why New York should be different.

One thing is certain — the cost and size of local government keep rising. The City Council is putting new burdens on small businesses, and property taxes continue to climb.

Hardly a day goes by that the mayor or governor doesn’t announce a “grant” to some group. Naturally, government skimmed its share of taxpayer dough before handing out the crumbs like so many cookies.

Redistributing wealth makes the pols feel good, but isn’t doing much for jobs.

To continue reading Michael Goodwin's column in the New York Post, click here