Obama, Romney talk trade in duelling addresses

Fri, Jun 15, 2012, 01:00

Candidates seem stuck in the same rhetoric they have used for months, and yesterday’s Ohio speeches were no exception, writes LARA MARLOWEin Washington

PRESIDENT BARACK Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney yesterday delivered duelling speeches on economic policy, just a few minutes apart, from opposite ends of Ohio.

Speaking at a community college in Cleveland, Mr Obama said there was “one place where I stand in complete agreement with my opponent: this election is about our economic future.”

Mr Romney earlier called the November presidential contest “a watershed election which will determine the relationship between citizen and enterprise and government”.

There was no doubt but that Mr Romney, the former chief executive of a private equity fund with a personal fortune of $250 million, stood with enterprise. In the first of two “prebuttals” to Mr Obama’s address, he told a business audience that “If you look at record over the last 3½ years, you will conclude, as I have, that it is the most anti-investment, anti-business, anti-jobs series of policies in modern American history.”

Mr Romney said the government’s main responsibility “as it relates to the economy is to make America the most attractive place in the world for entrepreneurs and innovators, investors, job creators ... Government has to be the partner, the friend, the ally, the supporter of enterprise, not the enemy.” Too often, he said, government looks at business “like you’re the bad guys.”

If elected, Mr Romney has promised to rescind Mr Obama’s health care reform Bill, which business owners dislike because it requires them to provide medical insurance for employees. He would also reverse the Dodd-Frank regulatory Bill – the government’s feeble response to the banking practises that caused the economic crisis. And he would promote coal, natural gas and petroleum exploration.

Mr Romney said he would get approval for the XL pipeline from Canada to Texas which Mr Obama blocked for environmental reasons, on his first day in office. “If I have to build it myself to get it here, I’ll get that oil into America,” Mr Romney told an audience in Cincinnati.

The economy has dominated public discourse since Mr Obama said that the “private sector is doing fine” on June 8th. Mr Romney has mocked him for that remark – which Obama later retracted – every day since.

Mr Obama made a joke of his blunder, saying the election “will take many twists and many turns” over the next five months. “There will be no shortage of gaffes and controversies ... You may have heard I recently made my own unique contribution to that process.” Aided by the media, the opposing campaigns have contributed to the shallowness of the debate by fixating on gaffes such as Mr Obama’s, or a remark by Mr Romney that was construed to mean he believed America does not need firefighters, policemen or teachers. Both candidates seem stuck in the same rhetoric they have used for months, and yesterday’s duelling speeches were no exception.

Many Democrats have grown frustrated that Mr Obama talks mostly about the past – what the New York Times calls his “Barack Obama Defensive Offensive”. He continually points out that it was George W Bush, not him, who created the economic crisis.

For Mr Romney, US economic history started when Mr Obama took office. He constantly quotes Mr Obama saying that if he could not turn the economy around in three years, he should be a one-term president.

“More than anything else,” Mr Obama said, “This election presents a choice between two fundamentally different visions of how to create strong, sustained growth, how to pay down our long term debt, and most of all how to generate good, middle class jobs... I have said this is the defining issue of our time, and I mean it. I have said this is a make or break moment for American’s middle class, and I mean it.”

The November election “is your chance to break the stalemate” between those competing visions, Mr Obama added.

The president believes the economy would improve more if he could raise taxes on the richest Americans and create public sector jobs to repair America’s ailing infrastructure, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has blocked all attempts to do so. He wants to invest in research, education and alternative sources of energy.

Mr Romney believes only the private sector can generate economic growth, and he wants to slash taxes for all Americans, as well as government spending, to encourage businesses to invest.

For Mr Obama, the economic debate must start “with an understanding of where we are and how we got here... Over the last few decades, the income of the top 1 per cent grew more than 275 per cent to an average of $1.3 million per year,” he said. “Big financial institutions, corporations, saw their profits soar. But prosperity never trickled down to the middle class.”

Mr Obama blamed banks and investors for “enticing” families into buying homes they could not afford. In further bad economic news, another 206,000 US homes were foreclosed last month, it was announced yesterday.