Given the final two minutes to speak during Tuesday's second presidential debate, President Barack Obama quickly spotlighted what he said was the key distinction between his re-election candidacy and the campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
"There's a fundamentally different vision about how we move our country forward," Obama said.
He's right, and "fundamentally different" is what the nation needs. For that reason, Romney should be elected president on Nov. 6.
The slow U.S. economy and its discouragingly high unemployment overshadow the other important issues in this election. Economic recovery must be spurred to a faster pace, and a change to Romney's leadership would do that.
Obama sought to correct politically inspired caricatures of his presidency by drawing a parallel between his own economic beliefs and Romney's key campaign theme.
"I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world's ever known," Obama said. "I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk takers being rewarded."
In those things, his views are the same as Romney's. But there was also what Obama labeled "fundamentally different."
"I also believe that everybody should have a fair shot and everybody should do their fair share and everybody should play by the same rules, because that's how our economy's grown," he said. "That's how we built the world's greatest middle class."
The notion that Romney is a corporate ogre who cares nothing about the middle class is no more valid off the campaign trail than the one that Obama is an anti-business coddler of lazy people whose only aspiration is to mooch their way through life.
The middle class in this country has grown when there have been jobs to fill. This is a nation of people who grab opportunity. Given the opportunity to choose between work and welfare, only a negligible number would pick welfare as the better option.
But the middle class has suffered disproportionately in the 2007-2009 recession and its aftermath. Opportunity is lacking and must be restored.
Obama does not deserve blame for the recession or the slowness of the recovery. To say other presidents have led faster recoveries is irrelevant. In the last 100 years, the only one to face such strong economic and political headwinds was Franklin Roosevelt, whose weapons against them were social welfare programs the scale of which is political anathema today.
The more relevant question is how to move forward.
Unfortunately for him and despite his achievements - a viable if not perfect healthcare plan, U.S. troops out of Iraq and headed for departure (except for fast-response teams) from Afghanistan, vigilance against al Qaeda and other terrorist threats, a strong but not overly restrictive environmental program and attention to alternative energy sources - Obama would face the same domestic policy traps in at least the first two years of a second term as he did in the last two years of his first.
The House is expected to remain under Republican control, the Senate Democratic. Absent change at the White House, the economy will be left to its own devices, most likely a continued but very slow recovery. But slow isn't what the country needs.
Romney is an agent of change whose primary campaign thrust has been the economy and his plans and qualifications to improve it.
On this front, he is highly qualified, both by business experience and public service.
No one should doubt that his economic recovery plan - a 20 percent cut in tax rates, additional tax breaks for upper-income individuals and reducing the budget deficit, all with no increase in taxes on the middle class - is but a loose sketch of a policy approach.
Details will have to be developed through working with legislative leaders from both parties who thus far have not made much progress on the nation's fiscal problems.
Romney has laid out a consistent theme focused on encouraging business innovation and growth, reducing government spending and its economic footprint and educating and retraining people to take new jobs.
That theme is a winner, and Congress will be receptive when Romney brings it.
------Distributed by MCT Information Services.