Last night President Obama and Mitt Romney went at it again at Hofstra University in a town hall style format. In this free-wheeling, free-for-all, the President shook off the stupor of the first debate and came out swinging–which made for great television. Who won? The pundits say Obama, through it wasn’t a knock out.
The real winners may have been students. First-time voter Jeremy Epstein, a college student, posed the first question. Here’s his query and a summary of how each candidate answered (slightly condensed in places). You decide whether Obama or Romney would be better for us:
Question: Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. Can — what can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?
Romney: Your question is one that’s being asked by college kids all over this country.
So what we have to do is two things: we have to make sure that we make it easier for kids to afford college and also make sure that when they get out of college, there’s a job. When I was governor of Massachusetts, to get a high school degree, you had to pass an exam. If you graduated in the top quarter of your class, we gave you a John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, four years tuition-free to the college of your choice in Massachusetts. It’s a public institution. I want to make sure we keep our Pell — Pell Grant program growing. We’re also going to have our loan program so that people are able to afford school.
But the key thing is to make sure you can get a job when you get out of school. And what’s happened over the last four years has been very, very hard for America’s young people. I want you to be able to get a job. I know what it takes to get this economy going. With half of college kids graduating this year without a college — or excuse me, without a job and without a college-level job, that’s just unacceptable. And likewise, you got more and more debt on your back. So more debt and less jobs.
I’m going to change that. I know what it takes to create good jobs again. I know what it takes to make sure that you have the kind of opportunity you deserve. And kids across this country are going to recognize we’re bringing back an economy. It’s not going to be like the last four years. The middle class has been crushed over the last four years, and jobs have been too scarce. I know what it takes to bring them back, and I’m going to do that and make sure when you graduate — when do you graduate?
When you come out in 2014 — I presume I’m going to be president — I’m going to make sure you get a job. (Chuckles.) Thanks, Jeremy. Yeah, you bet.
Obama: Jeremy, first of all, your future is bright, and the fact that you’re making investment in higher education is critical, not just to you but to the entire nation.
Now, the most important thing we can do is to make sure that we are creating jobs in this country, but not just jobs, good-paying jobs, ones that can support a family. And what I want to do is build on the 5 million jobs that we’ve created over the last 30 months in the private sector alone. And there are a bunch of things that we can do to make sure your future is bright.
Number one, I want to build manufacturing jobs in this country again. You know, when Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said, we’re going to bet on American workers and the American auto industry, and it’s come surging back. I want to do that in industries, not just in Detroit but all across the country. And that means we change our tax code so we’re giving incentives to companies that are investing here in the United States and creating jobs here. It also means we’re helping them and small businesses to export all around the world in new markets.
Number two, we’ve got to make sure that we have the best education system in the world. And the fact that you’re going to college is great, but I want everybody to get a great education. And we worked hard to make sure that student loans are available for folks like you, but I also want to make sure that community colleges are offering slots for workers to get retrained for the jobs that are out there right now and the jobs of the future.
Number three, we’ve got to control our own energy, you know, not only oil and natural gas, which we’ve been investing in, but also we’ve got to make sure we’re building the energy sources of the future, not just thinking about next year, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now. That’s why we’ve invested in solar and wind and biofuels, energy-efficient cars.
We’ve got to reduce our deficit, but we’ve got to do it in a balanced way — asking the wealthy to pay a little bit more, along with cuts, so that we can invest in education like yours. And let’s take the money that we’ve been spending on war over the last decade to rebuild America — roads, bridges, schools. If we do those things, not only is your future going to be bright, but America’s future’s going to be bright as well.