Obama: Role of Government Is to ‘Create Ladders of Opportunity’

October 4, 2012 - 4:22 AM

debate

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney gathers his notes while President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle try to leave the stage following the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

(CNSNews.com) – “Do you believe there's a fundamental difference between the two of you as to how you view the mission of the federal government?” debate moderator Jim Lehrer asked President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney Wednesday night.

“Well, I definitely think there are differences,” said Obama, who gave the first answer:

“The first role of the federal government is to keep the American people safe. That's its most basic function,” he said, adding that “as commander-in-chief, that is something that I've worked on and thought about every single day that I've been in the Oval Office.

“But I also believe that government has the capacity, the federal government has the capacity to help open up opportunity and create ladders of opportunity and to create frameworks where the American people can succeed.”

“Look, the genius of America is the free enterprise system and freedom and the fact that people can go out there and start a business, work on an idea, make their own decisions,” Obama said.

He then said he’s  tried to govern as President Abraham Lincoln did:

“But as Abraham Lincoln understood, there are also some things we do better together. So, in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, let's help to finance the Transcontinental Railroad, let's start the National Academy of Sciences, let's start land grant colleges, because we want to give these gateways of opportunity for all Americans, because if all Americans are getting opportunity, we're all going to be better off. That doesn't restrict people's freedom. That enhances it.

And so what I've tried to do as president is to apply those same principles.”

Obama then talked about his education reform plan and his call to hire more math and science teachers: “And Governor Romney doesn't think we need more teachers. I do, because I think that that is the kind of investment where the federal government can help.

It can't do it all, but it can make a difference. And as a consequence we'll have a better trained workforce and that will create jobs because companies want to locate in places where we've got a skilled workforce.

Romney began by rejected Obama’s charge that he doesn’t believe in great teachers or more schools – but he said hiring decision should be made at the local and state level.

As for the role of government, Romney pointed to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence:”The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents.

“First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means a military second to none. I do not believe in cutting our military. I believe in maintaining the strength of America's military.

“Second, in that line that says we are endowed by our creator with our rights, I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country. That statement also says that we are endowed by our creator with the right to pursue happiness as we choose. I interpret that as, one, making sure that those people who are less fortunate and can't care for themselves are cared by -- by one another.

“We're a nation that believes that we're all children of the same god and we care for those that have difficulties, those that are elderly and have problems and challenges, those that are disabled. We care for them. And we -- we look for discovery and innovation, all these things desired out of the American heart to provide the pursuit of happiness for our citizens.

“But we also believe in maintaining for individuals the right to pursue their dreams and not to have the government substitute itself for the rights of free individuals.”

Romney turned Obama’s “trickle-down” criticism back on Obama: “And what we're seeing right now is, in my view, a -- a trickle-down government approach, which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it's not working,” Romney said.

“And the proof of that is 23 million people out of work. The proof of that is 1 out of 6 people in poverty. The proof of that is we've gone from 32 million on food stamps to 47 million on food stamps. The proof of that is that 50 percent of college graduates this year can't find work.”