Obama or Romney: What’s the difference?

By Nathan Fatal

In an election season characterized by gaffes and statist ranting from both sides of the aisle, it came as no surprise to me that in the Oct. 3 presidential debate, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney claimed to have different views of the role of government. When asked, “Do you believe there’s a fundamental difference between the two of you as to how you view the mission of the federal government?” they insisted that there was such a difference but failed to identify it. There is, in fact, no fundamental difference between them.


After parroting catchphrases about freedom and personal success and nodding to the founding documents and principles of this country, the candidates dismissed said principles to argue about exceptions to them, i.e., instances in which the government need not protect the “liberties of our people,” as Mitt Romney had originally insisted. In the spirit of the rest of the debate and their personal political philosophies, they did not question or adequately establish the moral rightness of their policies or of government programs in general. President Obama cited “the Transcontinental Railroad…the National Academy of Sciences…[and] land grant colleges,” as examples of “things we do better together.” In other words, the government has a role in deciding which railroads, scientific studies, or educational methods are worthy of subsidies from taxpayers. Governor Romney posited that “the primary responsibility for education is – is, of course, at the state and local level.” In other words, Romeny says, ‘Yes, of course some level of government is responsible for determining what kind of education works best for parents and their children.’ In one portion of the debate, the candidates argued over the practicality of Obamacare and potential alternatives to it – but not, of course, the moral rightness of forcing people to buy health insurance, telling them what terms they must accept in doing so, or telling doctors how to do their jobs.

Any “differences” noted between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, in the context of this debate or otherwise, are superficial at best but more likely non-existent. There is no difference in terms of fundamentals, but only in terms of degrees – they argue over the how’s, not the why’s, of government interference in the otherwise free exchange of values. They have always agreed about the ends of government, but debate about the means.

Both Obama and Romney believe that the government has more of a role in our lives than that of defending our rights – or rather, that it has no such role. Both believe that such “rights,” whether or not they actually believe in them, are subordinate to the state, the greater good, and whoever can make the most convincing claim to need to live at the expense of others. Both believe that the government is ultimately responsible for the transportation, education, health, and scientific enlightenment of all people – at the expense of whoever can pay for it. Ultimately, they agree that your life belongs to others, and that the government’s role is to reach bi-partisan compromises as to which of your rights to violate and to what extent.

Nathan Fatal is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]