The political visions of President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in the face of unemployment and other challenges dividing the U.S. were the focus of a two-hour forum that the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) sponsored May 31, 2012.
The National Journal moderated the forum, the first of three planned in the “Compare the Candidates” series, which looks at a broad range of issues defining the 2012 presidential election. The May 31 forum, made up of three panels, tackled domestic and foreign issues and looked ahead to the November general election.
“This year’s presidential contest will no doubt be another nail-biter,” said Bob Carr, SPHR, senior vice president for marketing and communications at SHRM, in opening remarks at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
“If the polls are correct, the electorate remains divided on how to address the many challenges facing our country. Most agree that the economy is the most important issue to the American people and will decide the outcome,” Carr said, citing jobs, retirement, workplace flexibility and the skills gap among issues confronting the public and the president.
“The most immediate concern,” from SHRM’s vantage point, “is the skills gap. We believe it’s the barrier that keeps America from full employment.”
He noted that most SHRM members say that recruiting job candidates with the right skills and talent is their toughest challenge in remaining competitive.
Panelists touched on Obama’s and Romney’s perspectives on health care, foreign policy, education, immigration, the government’s role in the free enterprise system, the needs of small businesses and creation of jobs.
At the end of May 2012, the candidates were in a dead heat in three key states—Iowa, Colorado and Nevada—according to NBC-Marist polls. George W. Bush won those states in 2004; Obama won them in 2008.
Additionally, Obama topped Romney in likability, according to a CNN/ORC poll, while a CBS News Poll depicted the public slightly more favorable to Romney’s ideas on the economy than to the president’s.
Said Peter A. Brown, assistant director for Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, “This is one election where swing voters will not be moved by ideology but by who they think can solve their problems.”
‘A Monster.com Election’
“This election is not going to be an eharmony.com election; it’s going to be a Monster.com election: ‘Is this somebody I like or is it somebody who can get the job done?’ ” said Kevin Madden, a Romney campaign advisor.
“The president has a hard time selling an argument of economic optimism when at the same time people aren’t feeling it,” Madden said. “The president has a giant canyon between his message and what people feel,” he added. “That’s one of the reasons Governor Romney is doing well on the issue of the economy—he’s talking exactly about what he would do to address the enormous anxieties that people have from everything from rising costs to stagnant growth.”
He described Romney’s view of the government’s role in the free enterprise system as “to encourage and incentivize the private sector and individuals.”
Speaking on behalf of the Democrats, Joel Benenson, founding partner and president of Benenson Strategy Group, portrayed Obama as someone working to “restore middle class security” and Romney as someone who “believes if we take care of those at the top, everything else will take care of itself.”
“People are very forward looking,” Benenson said. “They know we’ve gone through an unprecedented time. … They’re going to look at what President Obama did to fix those things,” such as coming to the aid of the auto industry by winning concessions from auto manufacturers and unions.
In the first panel of the morning, Concord Coalition Executive Director Robert Bixby, representing a nonpartisan viewpoint, noted that neither candidate has presented a long-term sustainability plan for the economy.
It is “important to do things on the long-term structural deficit,” he said, noting that “the candidates have focused more on tactical issues,” which are short term.
“You can’t tax-cut your way out of it; you can’t grow your way out of it.”
Ron Brownstein, the National Journal’s editorial director and moderator of the panel featuring Madden and Benenson, said Wisconsin’s recall vote on June 5, 2012, could be “a foreshadowing …[of] how difficult it will be in this country to have a civil conversation about anything that matters.”
The next SHRM-sponsored event in the forum series is scheduled for Aug. 28, 2012, in Tampa, Fla., during the Republican National Convention.