Did you feel the earth shake Tuesday night? That wasn’t a temblor in southern Maine; that was the Etch A Sketch working overtime as Mitt Romney prepared for last night’s debate. “I’m not going to cut taxes for wealthy people,” he said. “Everyone in American should have access to contraception . . . Our party has been focused on big business for too long.” As Bill Clinton said so memorably, that takes brass.
Still, after 90 minutes of animated, not to say aggressive, policy discussion, few voters watching last night would confuse Romney and President Obama. Despite Romney’s recent pirouette to the center, the two candidates are profoundly different in their beliefs and visions for the future of America, and that came across in sharp relief.
Romney puts his faith in markets at home and in machismo abroad: rattling the sabre at Iran and China, and discarding a half-century of social progress with a reckless shredding of the safety net. He was most animated, and persuasive, when he sold his pitch about lifting the yoke of government from business and letting free markets reign. “I know what it takes to bring jobs back,” he said repeatedly.
Obama, by contrast, believes in a communal approach, painstakingly building coalitions of allies abroad and promoting a shared social compact at home. He was most passionate answering the very last question, when he drew a bright line between his own more inclusive approach and Romney’s dismissive attitude about the 47 percent, saying with conviction, “that’s not who we are.”
Both men tried to appeal to suburban women, many of whom are worried about pocketbook issues as much as they are about more abstract “rights.” But Romney’s budget plan would slash things these same women care about: education, health care, libraries, and — yes — Sesame Street. Romney interrupted the president to proclaim “government does not create jobs!” Tell that to the thousands of teachers, school nurses, and policemen who work, not for the government, but for us.