Final Presidential Debate Keeps Some Focus on U.S. Economy

Mitt Romney, left, Bob Schieffer, center, and President Obama, right, greet the audience ahead of the final presidential debate.

By Stephen Kaufman
IIP Staff Writer
Washington,
October 23,  2012

In their last debate before the November 6 election, President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney agreed on the goal of transferring full security responsibility in Afghanistan to Afghan forces by 2014 and on continuing international sanctions against Iran in response to its nuclear activities.

But both presidential candidates also managed to shift their conversation away from the October 22 debate’s announced foreign policy topics to discuss the main issue on the minds of most American voters: the U.S. economy.

In his remarks at the Lynn University event in Boca Raton, Florida, Romney said the U.S. national debt is the country’s “biggest national security threat,” adding that American strength and global leadership require U.S. leaders to “strengthen our economy here at home” to provide jobs and boost economic growth.

President Obama said that after a decade of war, with U.S. troops ending their presence in Iraq and preparing to leave Afghanistan, “it’s time to do some nation-building here at home” by putting Americans back to work rebuilding U.S. infrastructure and schools, and by investing in education, research and technology.

The debate was moderated by CBS’ Bob Schieffer, who said in an October 23 interview with CBS that he had been surprised that both candidates wanted to talk about U.S. economic issues instead of the planned focus on foreign policy. But he said that “this is their campaign,” and that the debate had been successful in giving viewers a better understanding of the two candidates.

When asked about allowing Obama and Romney to have a long discussion on the U.S. educational system, including teachers’ unions and class sizes, Schieffer said that “education is the basis for our national security.”

Opening the debate, Schieffer noted that it had been exactly 50 years before — October 22, 1963 — when President John F. Kennedy disclosed to the world that the Soviet Union had installed nuclear missiles in Cuba. The 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis was “perhaps the closest we’ve ever come to nuclear war,” Schieffer said, and is “a sobering reminder that every president faces at some point an unexpected threat to our national security from abroad.”

Asked about the political upheaval in Syria, Obama described the situation as “heartbreaking,” and Romney said it was “a humanitarian disaster.” Both supported helping the Syrian opposition while taking care not to arm elements in Syria that could later use the arms against the United States or U.S. allies in the region.

The two presidential candidates also expressed their support for Egypt’s 2011 revolution, which overthrew longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Those calling for freedom in Egypt “were speaking of our principles,” Romney said. Mubarak “had done things which were unimaginable, and the idea of him crushing his people was not something that we could possibly support.”

“America has to stand with democracy,” Obama said, and will support the revolution by helping Egyptians develop their economy and provide more opportunity for the young.

“Their aspirations are similar to young people’s here. They want jobs. They want to be able to make sure their kids are going to a good school. They want to make sure that they have a roof over their heads and that they have the prospects of a better life in the future,” he said.

Romney said Americans want to promote “a peaceful planet,” where people can “enjoy their lives and know they’re going to have a bright and prosperous future and not be at war.”