Romney's Task in the Debates

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The debates are Gov. Mitt Romney's last chance to turn around his flagging campaign. He must communicate what he has so far failed to convey -- his vision to give Americans a better life and qualifications to deal with tough challenges, like the financial meltdown and Arab Spring, that are unforeseeable when presidents are chosen.

Romney made his fortune in private equity, and to most Americans, the benefits of such activities are much more difficult to grasp than those of a Steve Jobs. In the confusion, President Obama has unfairly painted the Governor as a man who got rich sending American jobs to China.

What Obama does not tell voters is that as the nation's CEO, he repeatedly spent U.S. stimulus dollars in China that were intended to create American jobs. For example, components for government-financed wind turbines and materials for construction projects.

For his own part, Romney has failed to communicate his accomplishments as Governor of Massachusetts. He worked with the opposing party to craft health care reforms both parties could embrace and harnessed the runaway-cost Big Dig Project -- a tunnel connecting Boston with Logan Airport.

As president of the Boston Stake -- the Mormon Church equivalent of the Bishop -- he undertook remarkable efforts to combat urban gangs and the effects of drugs, cooperated with other faith communities, and administered his church's extensive system to help the needy. In his personal ministry, he walked in places most of us prefer not to visit.

If Romney's faith is a handicap, it is that it teaches the faithful to embrace responsibility for the conditions around them, act to make things better, and be modest about personal accomplishments.

Those are exactly the traits Americans should seek in a leader, even if those do not serve a candidate very well in a campaign.

The country is hardly better off today than it was four years ago.

In October 2009, unemployment peaked at 10%. Since the recession ended, the economy has grown only at about 2%. Unemployment is now down to 8.1% but only because so many folks have left the labor force. Were the same percentage of adults seeking work today as when the president took office, unemployment would be closer to 11%.

We have seen worse conditions and should be doing better.

In November of the second year of Ronald Reagan's presidency, unemployment peaked at 10.8% in the wake of double digit inflation and interest rates. By the fall of 1984, the economy was growing at better than 6% and unemployment was down to 7.3%. It reached 5.4% by the time Reagan left office and adult participation was rising.

Obama accuses Romney of returning America to the failed policies of the past, but not all Republicans are like George Bush any more than all Democrats are like Jimmy Carter.

Romney proposes to make American's taxes less complex and fairer -- lower rates and fewer deductions, credits and special favors. He has tangible plans to cut dependence on foreign oil in half and bring back millions of manufacturing jobs from China. All things the president has promised but failed to accomplish.

Romney's Web site lays it all out, but he has not been particularly effective in TV ads and public appearances explaining how all that will create jobs and growth.

The Obama campaign exploits this by filling in the blanks with half truths and distortions to the point of making this pundit ask: Does Obama believe he is running against George Bush or Mitt Romney? Has the president even bothered to read his opponent's published platform?

In the debates, Romney must make his character and plans apparent -- tell voters more about his personal journey and how he will take the country forward.

The nation already knows too much about Obama's instincts and unkept promises.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Professor Peter Morici, of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, is a recognized expert on economic policy and international economics. Prior to joining the university, he served as director of the Office of Economics at the U.S. International Trade Commission. He is the author of 18 books and monographs and has published widely in leading public policy and business journals, including the Harvard Business Review and Foreign Policy. Morici has lectured and offered executive programs at more than 100 institutions, including Columbia University, the Harvard Business School and Oxford University. His views are frequently featured on CNN, CBS, BBC, FOX, ABC, CNBC, NPR, NPB and national broadcast networks around the world.