With two weeks to go before the election, what voters don't want is more glib words and more mud-slinging. What they do want is for one of the candidates to offer a good reason to vote for him. "I'm not as bad as the other guy" won't cut it.
Barack Obama's 2008 slogan, "Yes we can," was based on the premise that he could bring us together. Yet it's pretty clear we haven't made much progress on that front -- and maybe things have never been worse.
Where the blame lies for that is a matter of opinion. But unity and cooperation are still what voters want more than anything.
As the Economist observed, "The closing weeks of this campaign promise to be both exciting and ugly. In place of soaring rhetoric about what can be done, expect to hear about what cannot. Somebody has to win in the end, but nobody will be setting this election to music."
Neither President Obama's name-calling nor Mitt Romney's pleas for fiscal discipline will turn the tide. In one of Mr. Romney's latest ads, his runningmate, Paul Ryan, declares: "We can't keep spending and borrowing like this. We can't just keep spending money we don't have." And why not, may I ask? We've gotten away with it so far.
It's true that the economy is an important issue, and the president is doing his best to divert attention from the dismal numbers and toward Mitt Romney's personal and business failings. He's pounding away with some pretty nasty stuff to show that Mr. Romney is out of touch with a vast swath of the American people.
And up until the first debate, the challenger let him get away with this line of attack. But then he suddenly discovered what he could bring to the presidency that Barack Obama has only talked about: cooperation, the one thing the American people want above all others.
In talking about how he got his health-care plan for Massachusetts through the state legislature, Mr. Romney said: "First of all, I like the way we did it in my state. I like the fact that we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together. What you [President Obama] did instead was to push through a plan without a single Republican vote. ...So entirely on a partisan basis, instead of bringing America together and having discussed an important topic, you pushed through something that you and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid thought was the best answer.
"What we did, in a legislature 87% Democrats, we worked together. Two hundred legislators in my legislature -- only two voted against the plan by the time we were finished."
So the strategy Mr. Romney should employ in the homestretch, under the banner "Let's work together," is to stress how he was able to work with both sides of the aisle in Massachusetts for the greater good and how he'll do the same thing as president.
And what would be even more effective would be to feature a Democratic testimonial in his ads to show how he brought both sides together. That's the tack Sen. Scott Brown has been effectively employing against his opponent Elizabeth Warren in Mr. Romney's home state.
In one commercial in a series of such testimonials, a former Democratic district attorney from Bristol County says: "We need a person like Scott Brown that 's going to say, "I don't care whose idea it is . I don't care if it's left or right, Democrat or Republican. This is a good idea; it's going to help people that are suffering.'"
John Cassidy, a columnist for The New Yorker, wrote a piece for the Financial Times the other day in which he poked a little fun at Mr. Romney's metamorphosis. Depicting himself as a Romney operative, he said "the dynamics of the marketplace have shifted in our favor just as we hoped they would. Ah, the power of marketing. Let nobody say you can't sell politicians like soap powder."
The last person who actually believed there was no connection between selling soap and selling politicians was Adlai Stevenson. And we know how well his campaigns turned out.