Obama vs. Romney 101: Where are the sharpest divides?

Both parties say that America stands at a crossroads – and that this election will determine which of two starkly different paths it will take. Election-year hyperbole? Not really. The Monitor examines how Mitt Romney and Barack Obama differ on the many important issues facing the nation.

Jacob Turcotte/The White House/Gage Skidmore/licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
The winning candidate will certainly move all levers available to try to enact his agenda – and Obama and Romney are far apart on everything from federal education policy and Washington’s role in health care to Wall Street regulations and efforts to reduce the unemployment rate.

Campaign 2012 is more than banners, brass bands, and angry attack ads. There’s substance – some – behind the hoopla. The Monitor's ongoing series “Obama vs. Romney 101” examines the sharpest differences between the candidates on some of the most important issues facing the United States.

As they show, a President Romney would take the nation in a very different direction than a reelected President Obama. Yes, the reach of the nation’s chief executive is limited. It’s checked by Congress and the courts, as well as public opinion, lack of time, and the press of daily events. Plus, the US is a generally centrist nation, and neither man would try to push policy to the far reaches of their respective ends of the political spectrum. Don’t let partisans scare you into thinking otherwise.

But presidents in general try to fulfill campaign promises, and the Oval Office remains the most powerful post in what used to be called the Free World. The winning candidate will certainly move all levers available to try to enact his agenda – and Obama and Romney are far apart on everything from federal education policy and Washington’s role in health care to Wall Street regulations and efforts to reduce the unemployment rate.

Here’s a simple thought experiment that illustrates the point. What would Washington look like today if John McCain had triumphed in 2008? Obama’s health-care reforms would never have been introduced in Congress, much less approved. Or what would have happened if Al Gore had been president in the wake of the 9/11 attacks? The US military response to the crisis might not have included an invasion of Iraq to displace Saddam Hussein.

The November election matters. America will be a different place depending upon on who wins.

“Over time, the Democratic and Republican parties have grown more and more polarized along ideological lines. This makes the choice in this presidential election quite consequential. The policy differences among the candidates – particularly with regard to the role of government – are stark and important,” says John Sides, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University and a co-author of “The Gamble,” a forthcoming book about the 2012 election.

The stories below identify major points of departure between Obama and Romney on key issues.

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