The stark contrast between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney was on display when the pair squared off for their second presidential debate Tuesday night.
A wide range of issues facing the United States and their potential solutions were debated, at times very heatedly, by both candidates, from the economy to education to foreign policy.
The town hall-style debate began with a discussion on dire employment prospects facing recent college graduates. Romney promised he would get a struggling economy moving forward, creating more job opportunities for graduates.
“I want you to be able to get a job,” Romney said. “I know what it takes to get this economy going. With half of college kids graduating this year … without a college-level job, that’s just unacceptable.”
Obama emphasized his plan to bring “high-paying jobs” back to the United States by investing in education and in manufacturing. He cited the 2009 bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler as an example of success.
“When Gov. Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said, ‘We’re going to bet on American workers and the American auto industry,’ and it’s come surging back,” the president said. “I want to do that in industries, not just in Detroit, but all across the country.”
As has been the case for much of the election season, taxes remained a major issue during the debate. Obama highlighted middle-class tax cuts he signed into law as an example of a promise kept, but accused Republicans in Congress of holding the extension of the middle-class Bush-era tax cuts hostage to those for upper-level income.
“That’s part of what took us from deficits to surplus,” Obama said of the Bush-era tax cuts, calling for a return to the Clinton-era rates on earned income over $250,000.
Romney again promised to cut tax rates by 20 percent across the board without adding to the deficit, by closing loopholes and ending certain deductions.
“When you bring those rates down, those small businesses are able to keep their money and hire more people,” the former Massachusetts governor said.
Obama called Romney’s tax plan a “sketchy deal.”
“We haven’t heard from the governor any specifics, beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, in terms of how he pays for that,” Obama said.
Romney highlighted several differences between himself and former president George W. Bush, who has remained largely out of the spotlight since leaving office, by promising to “crack down” on China and balance the budget.
“President Bush and I are different people, and these are different times,” Romney said. “My five-point plan is so different than what he would have done.”
Obama said Romney’s main economic policies are essentially the same as Bush’s, and that he is to the right of Bush on social issues and immigration.
“In some ways, he’s gone to a more extreme place when it comes to social policy, and I think that’s a mistake,” Obama said. “That’s not how we’re going to move our economy forward.”
Questioning the president’s response to the assassinations of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, Romney accused the president of not taking the issue seriously enough at first.
“The president, the day after that happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser, then the next day to Colorado for another event, another political event; I think these actions taken by a president and a leader have symbolic significance,” Romney said.
Obama took issue with Romney’s claim that his administration would “play politics.”
“The suggestion that anybody on my team … would play politics or mislead when we lost four of our own is offensive,” Obama said. “That’s not what we do.”