What a dreary, dispiriting election conversation this has been.
I hoped for serious discussions of how to pay for Social Security and Medicare. I wanted real talk about rebuilding America's infrastructure and improving public education. I wanted ideas for restoring the middle class and motivating young people to realize their stake in the country's future.
Mitt Romney has been a disappointing candidate. He brought a brilliant resume to the race -- governor of Massachusetts, successful businessman, savior of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. But he campaigned as someone completely different.
Desperate for the Republican nomination, he made ridiculous statements during the primaries (such as vowing to dismantle the Federal Emergency Management Agency).
Romney's campaign put out outright lies, such as repeatedly insisting Jeep plans to take Toledo, Ohio, jobs to China, forcing car-company executives to denounce Romney's ads as untrue.
Romney said nothing as GOP operatives tried to disenfranchise minority voters, raising the specter of nonexistent widespread voter fraud while ramming through state laws aimed at making voting more difficult.
Romney allied himself with buffoons such as Donald Trump, who repeatedly, without any merit, accused President Barack Obama of not having a legitimate birth certificate and of being named editor of the Harvard Law Review without credentials.
Romney never admonished people in his audiences who said vile things about Obama, unlike John McCain, who in 2008 firmly told a woman that Obama was no evil traitor but a fine man with whom he disagreed politically.
Romney failed to give us one new idea on creating jobs. He would hark back to a long-gone era by cutting taxes on the rich (who already pay record low rates), eliminating regulations that make business practices fairer, and cutting government safety nets for the poor. As for students struggling to pay soaring college tuition? Let them borrow from their parents.
Romney promised to reduce the deficit but refused to say how, except that he'd get rid of Big Bird.
Romney dismissed as irrelevant 47 percent of Americans who don't make enough to pay federal income taxes, are exempted while in combat or are elderly. Yet he said it's fair that, despite his vast wealth, he pays a far lower rate -- effectively, 14.1 percent in 2011 -- than most middle-income Americans.
He let the conversation focus on such absurd distractions as contraception, not bothering to contradict Rush Limbaugh, who trashed a young female law student for speaking out about medical uses for birth control pills.
He vowed to overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalizes abortion, meaning he would nominate Supreme Court justices who would vote to abolish it. But he would not increase spending to care for a million more babies each year
Romney ridiculed President Obama to his face for worrying about climate change, which this year alone worsened both a terrible drought and a killer hurricane.
He promised Congress would repeal Obama's overhaul of health insurance, which was based on the plan Romney pushed through the Massachusetts legislature. But he never said how he'd insure 50 million Americans.
He vowed 12 million new jobs in the next four years. But economists say that will happen automatically if current policies are left in place.
Romney said he'd make China play fair on trade without saying how. He raised the idea of war with Iran, although military leaders say we are too extended. (Romney is the commander-in-chief wannabe who failed to mention service members as he accepted the GOP nomination.)
Romney has shown no respect for the current president. Romney's campaign has been neither dignified nor uplifting.
It was up to Romney, the challenger, to give us reasonable, workable alternatives to Obama's policies and philosophy of government. But Romney could not do that because he forfeited his backbone to win the nomination.
As a result, we have no idea what Romney really believes or what he would do as president or even why he wants to be president except that it is next on his to-do list.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.)