Stupid," in the famous quotation from 1992's Clinton vs. Bush campaign—"It's the economy, stupid"—is whoever thinks a U.S. presidential election is about something else. All presidential elections are about the economy. Yes, there are other issues, but it's also true that a whale has pilot fish. Still, most politicians would rather talk about anything but the economy, which they see in one of two ways—as a personal piggy bank or a mystery. Neither is discussable in public. This is the sixth presidential election since "stupid" was first identified, and nothing has changed.
Barack Obama has reduced the whole economic record of his first term to one word: Bush. He's talking about the next U.S. economy, in which, he says, some people will be making windmills. Or capturing the rays of the sun.
His rebooted challenger, Mitt Romney, led an audience in Nevada last week through his plan to revive the economy. Mentioned first, and so presumably most important, he'd pursue "energy independence." Second most important: Crack down on trade "cheaters." That would be China, which is a long way from Vegas.
Next Wednesday night, these two will be hauled onto a stage in Denver for their first debate on "domestic issues," a euphemism for the economy. Nothing—and that includes Jim Lehrer—can make these two talk about the economy as it's understood by the average American voter. But the odds are Mitt Romney will talk about it and Barack Obama won't