Here, finally, we are. After months of seemingly endless campaigning, we arrive at the last few days of the race for the White House. After all that campaigning, many have openly wondered how anyone could still be undecided. We're not among those who wonder. We believe the choice for president in 2012 is both difficult and profound. Whomever is elected will be trusted in large measure with the fate of a stumbling economy, a foreboding debt crisis, a gridlocked government and an unstable world.
But now after weeks of debate and reflection, and a good amount of uncertainty on our own part along the way, we have reached our decision. What we would give in this troubled time for certainty, for inspiration, for the exhilaration that Barack Obama aroused in so much of America four years ago.
Here's what we believe: We believe that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are good and decent men who care about the country. We believe each possesses extraordinary skills and talent. But, philosophically, it is clear that one trusts government too much; the other appears to trust it too little.
In endorsing Illinois' favorite son in 2008, we declared Obama "has a chance to be a great president." We said, "He offers a new kind of politics. A politics that breaks down the old partisan walls. A politics that strives to bring people together. A politics of hope."
There is no doubt that as president, Obama has recorded some significant achievements, some even historic. Even his adversaries have embraced some. He's ended the war in Iraq, passed landmark health care legislation, opened the door toward civil rights for the gay community -- all notable accomplishments.
But four years later, where is the hope? Where is the confident swagger and leadership to uplift the nation's mood?
In that endorsement editorial four years ago, we described the landscape of America thusly: "Our country is polarized, our politics is unduly partisan and out of touch and our economy is on the brink of the worst financial calamity since the Great Depression."
Today, our country is still polarized, our politics is still partisan, our economy slugs along painfully on one of the slowest recoveries in history and the country's debt threatens our future and the future of our children.
How much of this should be laid at the feet of Barack Obama is difficult to say. The challenges to the country and to his leadership have been formidable, perhaps to an unprecedented level. The incessant hyperbolic-politics-as-entertainment drumbeat exacts a price in polarization that few presidents could overcome. The historic intransigence of a sizable bloc of Republicans in Congress has contributed mightily to the partisanship. Likewise, the debt has not been imposed by Obama alone. Republicans helped build it, and the failure of both sides to foster a constructive, bipartisan response has helped maintain and grow it. Both sides have embraced ideologies that don't fit today's overwhelming challenges, which must be met through moderation, consensus and collaboration.
Yet, in all these areas, Obama cannot escape the burden of his share of culpability.
At a time when the economy was wracked, he chose instead to focus on health care reform. In doing so, his administration chose early on to fight with Congress rather than to work with it. He chose to force his landmark health care bill through Congress without a single Republican vote, significantly contributing to the bitter atmosphere of division in Washington.
His economic initiatives have been heavily bent toward the public sector, a big spending approach that has been aptly derided by Romney as "trickle-down government."
And however well intended his belief that the Bush tax cuts should be ended for upper-income brackets, his $250,000 benchmark has been remarkably low, as many two-income families and small business owners and others in the suburbs can attest.
More pointedly, we are disappointed in the tone of Obama's relentless insinuations that wealthy Americans refuse to pay their fair share. That tone is divisive and damaging for the nation and for our economy. It creates villains and victims, and unfairly so.
In fact, call it wordsmithing if you like, but we think both Obama and Romney would better serve the country if they exercised more precision in their references to the so-called middle class.
We prefer the characterization espoused by Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank that often is at odds with us on issues. "All this talk about the 'middle class' is wrong and divisive," Bast said. "America is not a class society. We are an opportunity society. Middle-income people today are likely to be lower-income or upper-income people in just a few years, based on the choices they make."
This is a point, unfortunately, that seems to be lost on President Obama, and ultimately, the point where we must break with him.
Mitt Romney is not a perfect candidate, and we have our share of concerns about him. We're not the first to point out that his vacillation, in particular, has been troubling, while we understand the primary-election necessity to appeal to a conservative core of Republican voters.
But ultimately, we endorse Romney because he, unlike Obama, understands that jobs are a creation of business, not of government. And that to encourage job growth, we need policies that incent business to grow and provide it with a stable environment for that growth.
In the end, we need moderation, not ideology, to facilitate an economic recovery. It is the central issue that affects us all.
As the voice of the suburbs, we always have embraced this free enterprise philosophy as a bedrock of our principles. We view ourselves as independent, fiscally conservative, socially progressive, an advocate always for individual liberty. The Mitt Romney who governed Massachusetts governed it for the most part on those core beliefs as well.
Whether Obama's inability to work across the aisle is the fault of his administration or the fault of the opposition is hard to say. But the failure of that relationship is undeniable, no matter who's at fault. What evidence is there that a second term would bring stronger bipartisanship?
Romney, on the other hand, governed successfully in Massachusetts with a legislature that was almost totally controlled by the opposition party. He's proven he can work across the aisle.
He's proven capable in all that he has tried. He's proven that he can run businesses and create jobs. He's been successful in all walks of life.
"We don't have to settle for what we're going through," Romney said during one of the debates. "We don't have to settle for gasoline at four bucks. We don't have to settle for unemployment at a chronically high level. We don't have to settle for 47 million people on food stamps. We don't have to settle for 50 percent of kids coming out of college not able to get work. We don't have to settle for 23 million people struggling to find a good job."
We know these are political stump messages. Four years ago, something similar could have come from candidate Barack Obama in his politics of hope oratory. And while we need inspiration, what is needed more than ever are bipartisan solutions to these profound issues of our times. We believe a new approach, steeped in moderation and, yes, compromise with the opposition is the only path to a better day.
A moderate Republican Mitt Romney offers a new approach to what we all can embrace -- the politics of hope, of working together for the common good. This time, we believe he offers the best hope for all Americans.
Mitt Romney for president.