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NEW YORK (
TheStreet) -- This election should be about the economy -- the recovery is too slow and Americans are hurting. The performances of President Obama and Vice President Biden in the debates on the campaign trail tell us why.
Both say endlessly that they inherited a huge mess, but Americans have seen challenges like these before -- and with better leaders, they licked those more quickly.
When Mr. Obama took office, financial markets were in turmoil. Unemployment peaked at 10% in October 2009.
Since, the Obama-Biden team has managed 2.2% economic growth. Unemployment is down to 7.8%, but only because millions of adults are stuck in part-time positions or have quit looking for work altogether. Factoring in those folks, the jobless rate is 14.7%.
Ronald Reagan inherited an economy reeling from soaring oil prices, double-digit interest rates and inflation. Unemployment peaked at 10.8% in November 1982.
When he sought re-election, the economy was growing at 6.3%. Unemployment was down to 7.3%, even though millions more Americans were looking for work. Eventually, it fell to 4%.
Ronald Reagan believed in American grit and imagination. He unleashed innovation by sweeping away needless regulations, while keeping those that made sense. He lowered tax rates by throwing out and limiting many deductions and credits; developed domestic energy resources; and fixed an overvalued dollar with the historic 1985 Plaza Accord, which substantially revalued the Japanese yen.
Bill Clinton later reaped benefits with an export-driven expansion, but at the behest of Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, he swept away Glass-Steagall in 1999. Ultimately, that permitted
Citigroup(C) and a handful of other Wall Street banks to become reckless behemoths that nearly destroyed the global economy. Those continue to stymie regional banks that do much of the lending to America's small business -- the greatest jobs creators on the planet.
George W. Bush deserves blame for sleeping while those giants manufactured the global financial crisis. However, Mr. Obama has done little positive to fix things. Wall Street did much to finance his ascendency to high office, and as autoworkers can attest, he is not shy about paying campaign debts with federal favors and dollars.