By Sarah Jost
While some may criticize journalist Jim Lehrer’s performance as the host of last night’s first presidential debate, the fact is that he made a concerted effort to highlight the candidates’ differing views and opposing policies. And the differences are manifold. But another hugely important thing was highlighted during the debate: their difference in character, and what that difference would mean for the United States.
The behaviours of the candidates during the debate can be seen as a microcosm for the potential state of the country under their rule. On multiple occasions, Mitt Romney came across as aggressive, argumentative, entitled, and divisive. On one hand, this is not surprising given the privilege and righteous preaching of the Republican party. Yet Romney continuously spoke about bipartisanship and his success leading a mostly Democratic administration during his tenure of the governor of Massachusetts.
The rhetorical trick employed here is that the viewer is supposed to infer that Massachusetts was able to succeed in passing legislation thanks to the leadership of one Republican governor who ‘reached across the aisle.’ The reality is that the rest of Massachusetts’ 87% Democratic government undoubtedly played a huge role in passing such progressive legislation as health care reform. People are quick to say that Obama has not delivered on his 2008 campaign promises, but the fact of the matter is that he was unwaveringly, uncompromisingly blocked by the House and Senate Republicans at every turn.
If Romney’s debate performance was any indication, he is not a good, fair listener. He will cut people off. He will be unnecessarily domineering. He is an excessively wealthy, educated white male and is not interested in compromise. Meanwhile, President Obama came across as incredibly, surprisingly even, unifying. He was polite, never condescending or disparaging. He often made a point to cite the policies and beliefs the he and Mitt Romney share, tangibly demonstrating what unity and bipartisanship can look like, rather than merely preaching it, yet behaving divisively.
Thus the biggest difference between the candidates was ultimately highlighted: progression versus regression. Unification versus division.
Last night, Mitt Romney claimed that the United States has ‘the best health records in the world.’ The fact is that the World Health Organization ranked the US 37 of 191 countries in it’s assessment of the world’s health systems. In August of this year, Bloomberg ranked the world’s top 20 healthiest countries. The US was nowhere to be found. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the US is the most obese country in the world. In a 2008 study of the 19 leading industrialized nations, the US ranked worst in preventable deaths due to treatable conditions.
Romney wants to make the US energy independent by destroying the landscape and wildlife that make this country beautiful. He would put our natural resources and people’s lives at risk to drill in Alaska, run an oil pipeline underground from Canada to the US, and made it very clear that he is a ‘fan of coal’, not our nation’s mountaintops. The ridiculous thing about all of that, is that oil and coal and nonrenewable, unsustainable, finite resources. They not only hurt our environment, but will one day run out, leaving the US in a terrifying position. Romney repeatedly berated President Obama’s efforts to provide the US with energy dependence through safe, clean, sustainable resources like wind, solar, and biofuels. Romney pretended to care about the ‘morality’ of what debt we might leave for future generations to inherit, but how would it be moral to leave future generations with no energy resources? If we don’t prepare now for the day when oil runs out, our country won’t have much hope of future generations to speak of. He also criticised the ‘green jobs’ created by Obama, despite claiming that jobs were the most important thing to him.
President Obama has made it easier for students to borrow money to attend college with lower, stabilized interest rates. Mitt Romney told students that they should just be asking their parents to pay their college tuition.
Mitt Romney said he would ‘crack down on China['s trade practices] if and when they cheat,’ yet in 2009 and 2010, his family invested in the state-owned Chinese oil company and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
The United States has become a divided, ugly place over the past decade. Ever since President George W. Bush used a tragedy as an excuse to further his agenda in the Middle East, America has been increasingly polarised. It is difficult to imagine that anyone truly believes a ‘severely conservative’ millionaire will advocate for the average American in Washington. He already made it clear that it is ‘not his job’ to worry about nearly half of the American population. Nothing could be more divisive.