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Meghana Bansal Headshot

Obama's Education Fixation

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Meghana is a member of the Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run political awareness organization for high school students.

Almost all political pundits have denounced President Obama's uninspiring debate performance Wednesday night, but more curious than his seeming lack of preparation was his fixation on education. Throughout the night, the president mentioned his education policy, or Governor Romney's lack of one, often in inappropriate places. When first asked about jobs and his economic policy, President Obama first mentioned his affirmation of investment in education in technology. Even though he answered the question, the president failed to deliver the same specificity of his plans, as Governor Romney, who clearly outlined his financial platform. A more improper discussion of the topic came in his second opportunity to speak during the night, when he was asked to clarify his description of Romney policies as trickle-down economics. Again, the president began with his accomplishments in education, including his Race to the Top program, his efforts to hire 150,000 new teachers and making college more affordable. Instead of taking the time to question Romney's economic ideology, he felt the need to elucidate his investment in schools, perhaps compensating for his previous answer.

When Obama was finally asked whether it is the responsibility of the federal government to better public education, he appeared better equipped to deal with the issue. He stuttered less, did not meander and looked more into the camera and at the governor, far exceeding the allotted time. While Romney was not attacked for his gaffes over the past two weeks, he faced fire for his wealthy background, in contrast to most Americans today. Obama emphasized that "when he [Romney] tells a student that, you know, you should borrow money from your parents to go to college, you know, that indicates the degree to which, you know, there may not be as much of a focus on the fact that folks like myself, folks like Michelle, kids who probably attend University of Denver, just don't have that option." A stinging reminder of Romney's disconnect, this quip served to be one of the very few successful condemnations of the governor.

Obama's tendency to lean towards his education policy begs the question, why? What is his strategy? According to the 2012 Millennial Values and Voter Engagement survey, the president leads in voters between the ages of 18 and 25 by 16 percent, (55 percent compared to Romney's 39 percent). More likely, the Obama campaign wishes to draw attention to Romney's inability to identify the education programs he wishes to cut, his support of the voucher system and his VP candidate, Paul Ryan. Ryan's radical budget plan proposed major slicing -- the Obama campaign claims around 20 percent -- of the Department of Education and associated components. With a discussion of Ryan come the associated subjects such as Medicare and union, key issues in swing states, particularly Florida. In this election, Florida is absolutely critical for both sides, and Medicare might just be the issue to decide its status as a red or blue state on November 6th.

While more attention should be drawn to Romney's education record, the president's focuses on schooling were ill-timed. Legitimate questions need to be asked of Romney and his plans, particularly regarding teachers and the voucher system -- topics that Obama touched on. If the president is to draw attention to these issues and successfully match Romney, he must rise to the occasion and prepare more for his next opportunity: the town hall.