The first debate of the 2012 presidential season was — outside of a few dabbles into the health care debate — focused entirely on the economy.
“The question here tonight is not where we’ve been, but where we’re going,” President Obama began in his opening statement, asking America to embrace a “new economic patriotism” that focused on the middle class.
Former Governor Mitt Romney, however, declared that the last four years of Obama’s polices were no more than ineffective big government policies and suggested an alternative track to prosperity.
“It’s going to take a different path, not the one we’ve been on,” Romney said. “That’s not the right answer for America. I’ll restore the vitality that gets America working again.”
The Republican presidential candidate cited energy independence, trade reform, education, the deficit and helping small businesses as his main issues.
Starting the debate on the issue of taxes, Obama agreed with Romney on the need to lower the corporate tax rate but pointed out that Romney’s tax proposals, which ran up to 5 trillion dollars, were excessive for middle class Americans.
Romney responded by denying the validity of Obama’s accusation while accusing his opponent’s policies of raising the cost of living for the middle class.
“I’ll call it the economy tax. It’s been crushing,” Romney said. “I’m not looking to cut massive
taxes and to reduce the revenues going to the government. My number one principal is there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit.”
Obama replied by accusing Romney of not being consistent with his tax and spending plans throughout his campaign, and he called Romney’s current plan an “unbalanced approach…that means you are going to be gutting our investments in schools and education.”
Obama also laid out his own successes in saving federal money, claiming to have cut 77 unsuccessful or wasteful government programs in the last four years.
The last segment of the debate focused on the candidates’ deviating philosophies on the role of government, with Obama recalling historical examples of government action.
“Abraham Lincoln said, let’s help to finance the Transcontinental Railroad, let’s start the National Academy of Sciences, let’s start land-grant colleges, because we want to give these gateways of opportunity for all Americans because if all Americans are getting opportunity, we’re all going to be better off,” Obama recalled.
Romney countered by speaking of the importance of proper regulation.
“I mean, you have to have regulations so that you can have an economy work,” he said. “Every free economy has good regulation. At the same time, regulation can
The consensus among numerous campus groups that gathered to watch the debate pointed toward a leadoff victory for Romney – even among Obama supporters.
“Honestly, I am an Obama supporter, but I think that Mitt Romney iterated his points more clearly and more cleanly which is unfortunate because Obama’s usually a better speaker,” said Gallatin junior Alexander Seedman.
Another point of agreement among watchers was the passivity and consequent ineffectiveness of moderator Jim Lehrer.
“I think Jim Lehrer did a terrible job,” said CAS senior Samuel Leff. “I think if it were moderated by someone who cut them off when they were rambling [about] something completely unrelated to the question, they could have talked about more specific issues.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 4 print edition. Additional reporting by Kristina Bogos and Julie DeVito. Andrew Karpan is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]