The Mitt Romney that college students saw Wednesday night during the Presidential debate was not the unfeeling monster some expected. After being subjected to many months of dishonest political attack ads and shameless bias of mainstream media, we saw Romney portrayed as an out-of-touch, rich, mean, inflexible old man with radical views who simply didn’t care about the middle-class or our futures.
Yet Wednesday night, we saw and heard for ourselves Romney’s beliefs and plans straight from the source. Romney began the arduous process of debunking the misconceptions that surround him.
With his background as a budget-balancing governor and as the altruistic, committed man who engineered the unbelievable turnaround of the 2002 Olympic Games without accepting any pay, Romney’s experiences influenced his confidence-inspiring responses. We were the “next generation” Romney spoke about when he said it was “not moral for [his] generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation, and they’re going to be paying the interest and the principle all their lives.” He gave us hope for a future that does not include being saddled with excessive debt or high unemployment.
Romney established himself as a compromiser during this debate, and this should appeal to the progressive nature of college students. As governor in a state with 87 percent Democrats in the legislature, he learned to work with both parties. Under his leadership, Massachusetts was ranked the number one education system in the United States. He balanced the budget without raising taxes, and his health care plan passed with the support of all but two Democrats, starkly contrasting Obamacare, which was pushed through without a single Republican vote in 2010.
Romney calmly clarified each misconception fired at him: He does not support any cuts to education, nor any changes to Medicare for retirees and near-retirees. His health care plan advocates competition between the private and public sector to keep costs low and quality high and to make sure Social Security is still around when our generation needs it. Romney expressed his care and concern for the middle-class, outlining a plan to cut taxes for them. Contrary to the misconception that Romney only represents the interests of the wealthy, he reiterated that his measures would not benefit high-income individuals: “I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people. [They] are doing just fine in this economy. They’ll do fine whether [Obama is] president or I am.”
In a “React Lab” poll that monitored opinions of thousands of American college students as they watched the debate, 60 percent of students indicated that they would vote for Barack Obama and only 24 percent indicated they would vote for Romney. Yet, 52 percent of them believed Romney had won the debate. How could the winner have almost two-thirds fewer potential votes than the loser?
Perhaps this indicates that college students acknowledge that Romney is logically the stronger candidate, but they still have yet to warm up to him emotionally. Romney has had to try harder to gain the approval of the college demographic — he is older and not as popular, trendy or racially interesting as Obama. Obama is like the cool, good-looking significant other who you can have fun with, but isn’t reliable, doesn’t always keep his promises and often sticks you with the bill for dinner. Romney, however, is like the less outgoing, solid best friend who may not be as fun but is supportive, dependable, knows how to help you succeed, and has your best interests at heart.
If Romney keeps positively representing himself throughout the debates, he will continue to refute the false impressions held about him. He will prove his competence to college students looking for a brighter, less indebted future with more job opportunities after graduation. I have faith that we will realize that we need a dependable best friend now more than ever.
Email Andrea Aron-Schiavone at [email protected]