The years of Barack Obama's presidency have not been kind to some Americans.
Too many are still without jobs, too many still burdened with mortgages that dwarf the value of their homes, too many still faced with long slogs to retirements not nearly as golden as they once had hoped.
The jubilation and optimism that ushered President Obama into the White House have been replaced by anxieties that our standard of living is slipping, that our children will be bequeathed a future less of promise than of struggle.
How much is President Obama responsible for this malaise? Is it truly this bad? Can he be trusted to guide us to a better place? Or should a different leader be given this chance?
Republican Mitt Romney has made the case for change. Let's examine it, and him.
The Mitt Romney many of us in Connecticut knew was the governor of the neighboring state of Massachusetts in the mid-2000s, a politician known for his pragmatism and a professed interest in working with members of the other party.
He -- at least initially -- had moderate views on abortion and thoughtful positions on the environment, energy, education and fiscal matters. A successful executive in his previous life, he worked with members of the opposite party to enact the first comprehensive health-care reform plan in the nation.
We're not sure what happened to that guy. While Gov. Romney was clearly the most qualified of the lot of GOP primary contenders, he strained to convince his party's right wing that he was "severely conservative" on social and economic issues.
These days -- well, at least on some of these days -- he's transformed himself into Moderate Mitt, giving credence to a top aide's boast that he would use an Etch-a-Sketch to redraw his persona for the general election.
To be sure, he's hardly the first presidential candidate either to recast himself or to jettison a position or two.
Lest we forget, Bill Clinton dropped his pledge for a tax cut a few minutes after he escaped the snows of the New Hampshire primary in 1992; President Obama abandoned Candidate Obama's opposition to an individual health insurance mandate.
Still, the wholesale shape-shifting by Gov. Romney is breathtaking, perhaps unequaled in the annals of presidential campaigns.
Setting that aside, there is the matter of what he offers the country as an alternative to President Obama's leadership. Does he advance a plan that would cure the country's economic woes, position it for the future and safeguard it in an unpredictable and perilous world?
He says he wants to cut tax rates, but doesn't explain what deductions he would kill. He says he would repeal Obamacare, but doesn't explain what he would put in its place.
Gov. Romney wants to raise military spending without saying how he would pay for it. He ridicules President Obama's foreign policy in general, but finds few faults with most of its particulars.
None of that is reassuring.
If Gov. Romney must convince voters he's worth their support, so, too, must the president prove he's not only the person to lead the nation for the next four years, but that the record of his first term earns him a second one.
We think it does.
President Obama's oft-criticized stimulus plan cushioned the nation from the severity of the downturn. He succeeded in stabilizing the financial services industry and salvaging the auto industry.
His Race to the Top education plan introduced innovation and teacher accountability, replacing the well-intentioned but misguided No Child Left Behind policy.
His push to get carmakers to agree to significantly higher fuel mileage standards will save the country trillions in energy costs.
President Obama's foreign policy has been marked by restraint and prudence, whether in the Middle East or dealing with China and Russia. He's got our combat troops out of Iraq, and they're headed back soon from Afghanistan.
We also think President Obama is far more likely than Gov. Romney to appoint judges to the U.S. Supreme Court who are in the mainstream and not ideologues.
The president has had failures of his own making. He moved far too timidly to deal with the issue of mortgage defaults. And while GOP intransigence has blocked his initiatives in the last two years, his own occasional arrogance and aloofness have made bipartisan deal-making all the more difficult.
The president's supporters are fond of blaming George W. Bush for two things: the recession and the bulging federal deficit. They are right on one score, wrong on the other.
There's no doubt the Bush-era tax cuts and the costs of two wars made the deficit unmanageable when hard times depressed tax revenues and ratcheted up social safety net costs.
Yet the overall recession was largely the consequence of the collapse of the national financial and housing market bubbles, and it can hardly be blamed entirely, if at all, on former President Bush. By its very nature, this recession has not easily been overcome.
Both candidates have wasted too much time excoriating and demonizing the other.
Particularly dismaying is President Obama's characterization of Gov. Romney as a heartless corporate monster interested only in profits.
Voters are more concerned with knowing where each man will lead the country, and in that respect President Obama has the clearest and best vision. He sees the real world as it is, a more complicated place than the simplistic one Gov. Romney describes.
President Obama knows our future is challenged just as much, if not more, by technological innovation and global labor markets as by excessive regulation and our levels of taxation. As a result, the president's plan for deficit reduction and for economic growth is more balanced and achievable.
There is evidence our country is finally, slowly, emerging from the recession.
While we still need to deal with a health care system, in particular Medicare, that is eating up far too much of our national resources, Obamacare represents a very good first step.
The exuberance that greeted Barack Obama's inauguration may have faded. But we believe he has been equal to the sober, difficult, high-minded task of governance.
He should finish the job he started.