This has been a week in which the stock markets lurched downward. The treasury secretary had to swat away rumours that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the pillars of the mortgage business, may be crumbling. Oil prices spiked, again. Airlines cut schedules and raised prices, again. And the best that could be said about one of the nation’s biggest companies, General Electric,

was that it didn’t do worse in the second quarter than Wall Street had expected. All of that made it more clear than ever why this nation desperately needs the next president to have a clear-eyed vision for the economy — and the federal budget in particular. And yet, the biggest news that Senator John McCain made last week was his renewal of a pledge to balance the federal budget by 2013. How? Who knows?

Americans face hardship in the years to come. The demands of a tanking economy, coming on top of years of unmet needs — for health care, infrastructure repair and alternative energy, to name a few — will require the next president to spend more and to raise taxes to support that spending. Candidates for president do not like to be pessimistic, or candid, really, about the economy. But a leader who wants to steer the nation through tough times should not spend the campaign telling Americans they can have it all.