The Road Ahead

By Barack Obama
Rolling Stone, October 25, 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

The essence of this race is, "Do we have an economy that is building on all the work we've done over the last four years – an economy where we're focused on growing a strong, vibrant middle class, where we're focused on creating a strong manufacturing base here in the United States, where we are continuing to cut our imports of foreign oil, not only by developing homegrown oil and gas, but also by making sure that we are developing and taking leadership in clean energy? Are we going to continue to make investments in education that ensure that every kid in America has a shot at success if they're willing to work hard? Are we going to reduce our deficit in a way that's balanced and allows us to continue to make the investments that help us to grow?" That's what I'm putting forward.

What Governor Romney's putting forward is a return to the very same policies that got us into this mess in the first place: tax cuts skewed toward the wealthy and rollbacks of regulations that we fought very hard against lobbyists and special interests to put in place, to make sure that we don't have taxpayer-­funded bailouts, to make sure that insurance companies aren't taking advantage of folks who need health care, to make sure that we have a strong consumer advocate in place to protect people from unscrupulous lenders.

So I'm absolutely sure that we've got the better argument. And Governor Romney understands that. It's the reason why he's trying to fog up the issues. We won the battle of ideas during the course of the last year. His argument for a $5 trillion tax cut skewed toward the wealthy is not a recipe for growth. It won't create jobs, it won't reduce the deficit, and the American people understand that.

When Romney was the governor of Massachusetts, his efforts to balance the budget involved raising taxes and fees on middle-class families and gutting investments in education. As recently as two weeks ago he said he thought it was fair for someone like him, who's making $20 million a year, to pay a lower tax rate than a teacher or bus driver making $50,000 a year. His basic theory is that if folks at the top are doing well and are unencumbered, that prosperity will rain down on everybody else, because they'll make better decisions about allocating capital.

I've got a different theory. I believe that when middle-class families are doing well, then we all do better. Because those are customers who are buying goods and services, so businesses do better. It goes back to what Henry Ford understood when he decided to pay higher wages to his workers. That's how we grew a middle class. Our task over the next four weeks is just to lay bare just what these economic choices are.

Republicans have been telling themselves for a while that half the country consider themselves victims and want to be dependent on government. Obviously, Romney was wrong on the facts, since the overwhelming majority of that 47 percent are either folks that are working every day and paying all kinds of taxes but just don't earn enough money to pay income tax; or are senior citizens who worked all their lives and did everything right so they could count on some sense of security as they got older; or they are veterans who have sacrificed for our country, or soldiers who are sacrificing as we speak on behalf of our country. But that sense that folks who have contributed to this country but are at the lower ends of the income scale are somehow looking for government to do something for them, or feel some sense of entitlement, is just fundamentally wrong. It doesn't jive with what I see as I travel across the country every day.

Are there people who, both at the top and the bottom, aren't pulling their weight and are looking for a special deal? Sure. But as was pointed out when this controversy erupted, there are a whole bunch of millionaires who aren't paying any income tax, as well as people at the lower end of the income spectrum who may be taking advantage of the safety net that we've put in place. We should hold everybody accountable who's not doing their fair share. The American people don't like bailouts, they don't like handouts, but they do understand that we have to have a government that ensures that if somebody is working hard and carrying out their responsibilities, that they can succeed and that they can give the prospects of a better life to their kids and their grandkids.

Governor Romney was willing to embrace the most extreme positions in the Republican Party: on immigration, on environmental issues, on women's issues and on the economy. Frankly, I think that's telling when you start thinking about the presidency. If you can't say no to certain elements of your party, if you don't have sets of principles that you're willing to fight for, even if they're not politically convenient, then you're gonna have a tough time in this office.

It was only at a point when the American people soundly rejected those views that you started seeing him try to fuzz up those positions. But they remain his positions. He continues to believe, when it comes to immigration, that the Arizona law is a model for the nation, and that self-deportation is the answer. When it comes to women's health issues, he continues to believe that Roe versus Wade should be overturned. He would support a constitutional amendment overturning a woman's right to choose and would eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.

If you talk to women, they will tell you they're very capable of making their own health care decisions. If you have a chance to meet these Dream Act kids, then you would reject the idea that somehow they should be deported to some country where they've never been. But those are Governor Romney's positions.

Health care is a national issue of massive importance. It takes up 17 or 18 percent of our entire economy; it touches on everybody's lives; it is a massive burden on businesses, on our federal budget and on families. I am very proud of the steps we've taken already: making sure that insurance companies can't impose lifetime limits that could leave families high and dry if somebody gets a severe illness. Parents being able to keep their kids on their own plans until they're 26 years old. The rebates that are already going out to customers because we've said to insurance companies that you've got to spend the dollars you collect in premiums on actually providing care, not just on overhead and CEO salaries. The $600 a year that seniors are saving on their prescription drugs. The tax breaks we're providing small businesses in order to provide health insurance for their families. The cost-control measures that are trying to develop better ways of providing care. All those things are already happening.

For the greatest nation on Earth not to make sure that people aren't going bankrupt when they get sick – that was a blot on our society. And for us to take this step forward is something that is really going to make a big difference for millions of families for decades to come.

When you talk about economic fairness, it's not just an issue of fairness, it's also an issue of growth. Republicans often tries to frame this as "Obama's a redistributionist, whereas we want to grow the pie instead of taking from Peter to pay Paul." But look at our history: When we've been successful, it's because everybody is in on the action. When prosperity is broad-based, it is stable, it is steady, it is robust.

The people in the auto industry want to work hard, but they want to make sure that hard work is rewarded. They really take great pride in making great products, making a great car. That's what you see in Ohio, that's what you see across the country. People want to work hard, they want to feel like they're contributing, they want to feel like they're helping to build the country. All they want is just a chance.

Abraham Lincoln believed in self-sufficiency and self-reliance. But he also understood that there's some things we do better together. That we make investments in our infrastructure and railroads and canals and land-grant colleges and the National Academy of Sciences, because that provides us all with an opportunity to fulfill our potential, and we'll all be better off as a consequence. He also had a sense of empathy, a sense of the intrinsic worth of every individual, which led him to his opposition to slavery. That view of life has made America great and allowed us to stitch together a sense of national identity.

We're going to have a full agenda in the second four years. The single biggest thing that I would like to see is changing incentives on Wall Street and how people get compensated. That ultimately requires not just congressional legislation but a change in corporate governance. You still have a situation where people making bets can get a huge upside, and their downsides are limited. So it tilts the whole system in favor of very risky behavior. But that's not something that can entirely be legislated That's something that also has to involve shareholders and boards of directors being better stewards of their institutions.

Bill Clinton has a lot of credibility with the public when it comes to how the economy works. Because the last time we had healthy, broad-based growth was when he was president. I came in just as we were sliding. Because of the actions we took, we averted a Great Depression, but we also muddied up the political narrative, because it allowed somebody like Romney to somehow blame my policies for the mess that the previous administration created. Bill Clinton can point that out in ways that are really helpful and really powerful.


AR This is a good case, well argued.