Romney Lost Tonight. So Did America.

I guess you want to know who won the debate, and the answer is President Barack Obama. He was as alive tonight as he was asleep two weeks ago. He defended his record and called out Mitt Romney on his flip-flops. Romney looked defensive and rattled, particularly when he badly botched the exchange on Libya.

But setting aside the horse race, I found the substance of tonight’s debate incredibly depressing, because neither candidate made a remotely convincing case that he can fix America’s economy.

Romney repeatedly talked about his “five-point plan,” which is a rehash of Bush-era policies. It has no content aimed at the specific problems of our time: weak demand, high unemployment and a still-troubled housing market.

Obama touted his misguided fetish for manufacturing and green jobs, as though what America needs is the federal government deciding which industries should grow. He combined those talking points with platitudes about education.

That’s not to say I’m surprised. If Obama had a serious economic agenda, he would presumably be working to implement it. Instead, his administration appears resigned to plod along in a tepid recovery that will leave unemployment above 6 percent for years to come.

And if Romney has a serious economic agenda, he has worked very hard to ensure that nobody finds out what it is.

Romney and Obama fought with each other a lot tonight, but the subtext of their messages was sadly similar: If elected, they will sit around and hope the economy gets better. That's not a message that gives me much hope for the next four years, no matter who wins.

(Josh Barro is lead writer for the Ticker. E-mail him and follow him on Twitter.)

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