During Tuesday’s presidential debate, audience member Barry Green raised a unique question: As we approach the election, what are the biggest misconceptions associated with each candidate?
Neither candidate broke any new ground — they used Green’s question as an opportunity to reiterate some of their central campaign points — but the question remains relevant, particularly for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. This election has been rife with false accusations, misleading facts and flat-out lies stemming from both parties. Clarifying what is and isn’t true will allow voters to make more informed decisions come Nov. 6.
A major misconception, which was also addressed in another audience member’s question, is that, because Romney is running under the Republican ticket, his term in office would be a repeat of former President George W. Bush’s administration. This, however, is far from the truth. Though Bush and Romney support tax cuts to boost the economy, Romney has promised to keep the budget deficit neutral for his presidency. The tax cuts and economic policies of the Bush administration, according to many economists, were major causes of the recession. Romney’s budget plans are far more realistic than Bush’s and would not lead to further economic crisis.
Even better, his plans aren’t too heavily conservative; another misconception persists that Romney stands too far to the right for his administration to run the country effectively. Though some of his social policies — his stance on gay marriage or abortion, for example — have been traditionally right-wing, when it comes to more far-reaching issues he’s surprisingly moderate. In a recent interview with The Des Moines Register, Romney stated that in his tax plan there will be no tax breaks for high-income taxpayers and that his focus would be to reduce the burden on middle-income Americans. In this respect, Romney shares this goal with Obama — and has a much sounder economic plan to back it up.
Romney has put substantial thought and definitive planning into his economic policy, though. What about topics where Romney’s position isn’t as fully formed and well-known? Educational reform, for example, is a pressing issue that many claim Romney has fallen short on. Specifically, he has been criticized for reducing the capacity for student loans. Though Romney, like many other Republicans, doesn’t support as much student aid as Obama, it doesn’t mean that he’s opposed to reforms that improve student livelihood and performance. In Tuesday’s debate, Romney said he “want[s] to make sure we keep our Pell Grant program growing,” as he professed the importance of improving the education system.
But Romney’s policies aren’t the only aspects of his campaign that have been misinterpreted. On a personal level, Romney has been criticized for being out of touch with the middle class and overly secretive about his wealth. Though it’s proven difficult for Romney to connect with the middle and lower classes, he’s shown nothing but improvement in the last two debates, promising to relieve taxes on lower tax brackets. It’s difficult for the multi-millionaire to appeal to lower-income families because he’s only experienced a life of wealth, not because he doesn’t care. In fact, in response to Green’s question, Romney emphasized that he cares about “100 percent of the American people.”
As the election approaches, there will be more and more opportunities for the candidates and media to botch facts and promote misconceptions. Until voters make their final decisions on Nov. 6, they should take the information they receive with a grain of salt and educate themselves on who the candidates really are.
Burke Gibson is a sophomore majoring in economics and is the Daily Trojan’s Chief Copy Editor.
Point/Counterpoint runs Fridays.
The final question of the second presidential debate was not about jobs, taxes or any of the usual suspects. The man who asked the question, Barry Green, asked President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to set voters straight about the biggest misconceptions held about each of them.
Neither candidate said anything new — Romney said he cares about 100 percent of people and will get the country working again, and Obama said he wants to level the playing field and will do better than the man who threw 47 percent of Americans to the wind. There are, however, other major misconceptions at play in this election, especially about Obama, that must be debunked before Election Day so the right man gets elected.
The first misconception — and the one most often used by the Romney campaign to sway voters — is that Obama didn’t get anything done in the last four years. It’s true that Obama made campaign promises in 2008 that he has failed to keep, but that is not because his character as a politician or a man.
The biggest 2012 campaign issue is easily the economy, and voters are dismayed that things haven’t improved financially since Obama took office. But Obama’s economic record has to be judged relative to the situation he inherited: the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. When thinking about Obama’s record, voters should keep this in mind and recognize that what he has accomplished in four years — sparking a resurgence in the auto industry and creating 4.5 million new jobs, among other improvements — is actually pretty admirable.
Obama also came into office at a time when America’s global reputation was suffering because of former President George W. Bush’s frequent foreign policy missteps, including the mistaken invasion of Iraq. Despite the fact that Obama inherited two wars that the international community vehemently opposed, he made great strides toward ending and repairing America’s damaged international reputation. Obama’s administration oversaw the assassination of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden last year, troop withdrawal from Iraq last December and a solid plan to end the war in Afghanistan by 2014.
Not to mention, pinning current crises in the Middle East on Obama (as the Romney campaign so often does) is based off the misperception that they are his administration’s wars. In actuality, they are Bush’s wars and Obama has sought to end them. Yet interestingly, many members of Bush’s team who advocated for these wars are now Romney advisers, such as former Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael V. Hayden (a strong proponent of torture who was talented at covering up Bush-era torture tactics) and John Bolton, Bush’s United Nations ambassador (a neoconservative who was actually forced out during the second Bush administration for his extreme views on war).
Debunking foreign policy is one thing, but what about the way voters perceive the candidates to be on a personal level? Green asked Obama and Romney to set voters straight on misconceptions about each of them not only as candidates, but as men. Since Obama took office, he has often been accused of being cold and aloof for refusing to socialize as much as presidents normally do with lawmakers, Congress members or wealthy donors. Critics and supporters alike also characterized his first debate performance in this way. But this is a mistaken characterization that overlooks one of Obama’s most admirable qualities: his aversion to the Washington culture of sound bites and demagoguery where everything is about money and making quick, easy appeals to garner votes.
To misinterpret Obama’s lack of participation in this world as personal aloofness is to miss out on re-electing someone who offers a foil to the usual Washington narrative.
This close to Election Day, it’s safe to say most voters will probably not change their mind about which candidate they support. It’s a key time to re-evaluate the reasons behind this support, however, and to recognize any differences between misconception and truth.
Elena Kadvany is a senior majoring in Spanish and is the Daily Trojan’s Editorial Director. Point/Counterpoint runs Fridays.