Obama’s answer is good—who doesn’t agree persistence is an admirable trait, and he too evokes leadership with his comment about staying “buoyant in the face of challenges.” But without a direct reference to a president from history (even if he had mentioned Lincoln in his prior answer), his answer doesn’t come off quite as strong.
60 Minutes: When do you have time to think and be alone?
Romney: Well, at the end of the day, usually at about 10:00, things have finally wound down. And I'm able to spend a little time. I talk to Ann. She is on her own schedule. And we spend 15 or 20 minutes on the phone. And then I read. And I think, think about the coming day and think about what I want to accomplish. I pray. Prayer is a time to connect with the divine, but also time, I'm sure, to concentrate one's thoughts, to meditate, and to imagine what might be.
60 Minutes: You pray every night before you go to bed?
Romney: I do pray every night, yeah.
60 Minutes: What do you ask for?
Romney: That's between me and God. But mostly wisdom and understanding. I seek to understand things that I don't understand.
Obama: Well, I'm a night guy as it is. And so, Michelle usually goes to bed about 9:30. She's an early bird, maybe 10:00. The girls go to bed around 10:00. And so I've got those hours between 10:00 and 1:00 in the morning, let's say, where not only do I do some work, but I do some reading, I do some writing. There are times where I sit out on the Truman Balcony and it's as good of a view as you get with the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Monument—Memorial set back behind that. And so those are moments of reflection that, you know, help gird you for the next challenge and the next day.
Advantage: Romney. They may both be night owls—neither said he gets up early to do his best thinking. Obama’s answer reminds us he’s already in the White House, and that he takes time for contemplation, but it doesn’t tell us much about how he thinks. Romney manages a little more with his answer. He gets in an allusion to his wife, to God and to humility (something he may want to underscore following the now
infamous 47-percent remarks
) when he says he prays for “wisdom and understanding” and “I seek to understand things that I don’t understand.”
60 Minutes: Presidencies are remembered for big ideas (emancipation, Social Security, the man on the moon). What's yours?
Romney: Freedom. I want to restore the kind of freedom that has always driven America's economy. And that's allowed us to be the shining city on the hill. The kind of freedom that has brought people here from all over the world. I want people to come here, legally, to want to be here. I want the best and brightest to say America's the place of opportunity, because of the freedom there to pursue your dreams. So my message is restore the kind of freedom that allows America to lead the world.
Obama: Yeah, I gotta tell you, Steve, I think there's no bigger purpose right now than making sure that if people work hard in this country, they can get ahead. That's the central American idea. That's how we sent a man to the moon. Because there was an economy that worked for everybody and that allowed us to do that. I think what Americans properly are focused on right now are just the bread-and-butter basics of making sure our economy works for working people. And if we can accomplish that, there's no bigger idea than that. That's the idea that has attracted people to our shores for generations.
Advantage: Neither, really, though Obama’s was better. Romney’s “freedom” answer sounds vague and offers little in the way of specifics. Obama, meanwhile, hit on the theme that matters to most voters (and that is critical to the country), which is reminding voters he’s focused on preserving the American dream, or “the idea that has attracted people to our shores.” But neither answer is a “big idea”—much less a new one—that will bring new energy and enthusiasm to their presidencies or their parties.
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