Some time ago, I got statements from Team Obama and Team Romney about their policies on education. In each case, I received what is no doubt a pre-drafted response on a standard policy issue – with Mitt Romney’s website, this was obvious, but with Barack Obama’s website the response came in the form of a letter addressing the issue.
Both potential 2013 presidents pointed to their record on education – Barack Obama pointed to policies he has enacted as President, in spite of an obstructionist congress. Mitt Romney pointed to his record as Governor of Massachusetts.
So, based on their responses and comments they’ve made in the campaign, how should you choose? If you are a single-issue voter for whom education is the key, who should you vote for?
Let’s start by looking at the cadidate’s responses linked above. They start the same – education is important, and everyone should have an opportunity to obtain it. Then, however, the two letters diverge. Barack Obama’s letter outlines a vision for what American classrooms should be like – places of “high expectation and success.” In fact, Barack Obama’s letter is peppered with visionary statements, such as “The future of America’s economic strength is determined each day in classrooms across our Nation” and “Across our country, young people are dreaming of their futures and of the ideas that will chart the course of our unwritten history“. It would make a great speech. Mitt Romney’s letter, by contrast, seems rather void of grand sweeping vision. If you think it’s important for a president to have a vision of education as the foundation of a nation’s future, Barack Obama wins on that point.
Instead of vision, Mitt Romney leads from the opening paragraph by stating his accomplishments – the success of kids in grade 4 and 8 in Massachusetts during Romney’s third year as governor. On a first and second reading, this sounds nice – but is this really due to him? Can one pull students in one’s state up to the top of the 50 states in only three years?
Romney also points to scholarships he has created, and the policy he instituted requiring high school students to pass an exam before being allowed to graduate. Barack Obama’s list of accomplishments sounds more general – but nonetheless practical. This may be due to the intrinsic difference that must appear between a state-wide program and a national program, but Barack Obama also gently points his finger at the uncooperativeness of the Republican-led congress. Whatever the reason, Mitt Romney points to a small collection of specific achievements, whereas Barack Obama describes what appears to be a wider raft of broader achievements – but less specifically described. One might expect this, given the difference in the roles of President and Governor. Let’s call them even on this point.
The real question, however, is not what they have done, but what they would do if they were President for the next four years. One might reasonably expect the President, if he continues to be President, to continue to act like the President. Politifact has collected together various quotes by Obama on higher education. He has talked, and continues to talk about the need for tertiary education to become more affordable, and for Americans to place a higher emphasis on attaining it. He has put action to his words, too, diverting money from bank subsidies to Pell grants.
Would President Romney act like Governor Romney? That’s a tougher call. We do know that “Obamacare” is substantially similar to “Romneycare” – the health system Romney instituted in Massachusetts as Governor. Since he now opposes healthcare policies he once created, one can’t be sure his policies on education would remain the same either. Worse still, the GOP has made practically no campaign promises whatsoever about education. This contrasts strongly with Barack Obama’s campaign promises on the topic, many of which have been fulfilled. It’s interesting to note that those promises of Barack Obama on Education that have not been fulfilled are the ones that involve spending large amounts of money.
So, team Obama makes and (generally) keeps promises on education. team GOP makes no promises. Team Obama has a vision for education as a foundation for the nation’s future success. Team Romney, apparently less so.
Most damning for Team Romney is the GOP’s recent voting record on education. Since the Global Financial Crisis, many teachers have lost their jobs – the states that employed them simply didn’t have the money to keep them. Barack Obama’s Jobs Bill would have released federal funds to the states, for the express purpose of rehiring those teachers. The GOP destroyed the bill by filibustering it to death.
Why would the GOP, with Mitt Romney’s full support, block a bill to hire teachers? They claimed it was to balance the budget, yet they also blocked laws to raise taxes on the rich, and now Mitt Romney claims cuts to defense spending is bad. If they were concerned about budgets, they would vote for tax increases and defense spending cuts. Dare one suppose that their sole purpose was to make Obama look ineffective? And if so, dare you vote for a Republican Party who put their political ambitions ahead of the livelihoods of thousands of teachers and welfare of thousands of students?