Politicians love to try to stir voters' imaginations with lofty talk about elections being about our future.
There's certainly some truth to that. But the choice voters must make in just a few short weeks is really, in some real sense, about the past.
Specifically, do they want our economy to look more like the 1990s, or instead, like the decade that followed them?
The '90s, of course, were big boom years for a wide cross-section of Americans. The economy in the 2000s, meanwhile, just sort of sputtered along lamely, until the bottom fell out entirely in 2008. If you didn't start the "aughts" being rich, you probably didn't do terribly well.
Someone once said that when Bill Clinton was president, all the things that went up are supposed to go up (GDP, job creation, wages, and the stock market) and all the the things that went down are those that are supposed to go down (unemployment, interest rates, poverty and the federal budget deficit). But for George W. Bush, the reverse was true. The things that are supposed to go up actually went down and the things that are supposed to go down, went up.
President Obama and the Democrats are trying to replicate the Clinton era, which was the longest economic expansion in peacetime ever in American history. The GOP, meanwhile, would prefer to keep the Bush years going.
The Republicans aren't exactly going around campaigning with placards adorned with the face of our 43rd president. But their top economic priority is to extend tax cuts enacted under Bush, especially those for the top 2 richest percent of Americans.
Obama's own treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, spelled out the choice in a speech this summer in Washington.
“In the 1990’s, sound fiscal policies led to large surpluses and important investments in the middle class, which helped contribute to a period of strong growth and job creation,” Geither said, before describing the fiscal failures of the subsequent Bush years.