Obama and Romney on '60 Minutes': What were the defining moments?

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney tried to give detailed answers to tough questions in separate '60 Minutes' interviews. If you're an undecided voter, you should watch the whole program.

CBS/AP
In this Sept. 12 image taken from video and provided by CBS, '60 Minutes' correspondent Steve Kroft speaks with President Obama, at the White House in Washington. The interview aired on '60 Minutes' Sunday night, Sept. 23.
CBS/AP
In this Sept. 16 image provided by CBS, Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney talks with '60 Minutes' correspondent Scott Pelley in Boston. The interview aired on '60 Minutes' Sunday night, Sept. 23.

President Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney both appeared on CBS's “60 Minutes” Sunday night. The interviews were taped separately, so the two men didn’t go at each other directly. But the juxtaposition made the whole thing seem like a predebate prior to the first official presidential debate on Oct. 3.

So how did they do? What were the most important statements?

First off, we’re not going to say either guy won or lost. Partisans from each side are pointing to quotes from the other and screaming “wipeout,” but we just don’t see it that way. Both Messrs. Obama and Romney tried to give detailed answers to tough questions, including follow-ups. If you’re still an undecided voter, you should watch the whole program. Might be a good basis for helping you make up your mind.

This said, the Obama answers that appear to have made the most news dealt particularly with foreign policy. Asked about pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the United States to set a red line beyond which Iran can’t go with its nuclear program, Obama said such outside comments are just “noise.”

“When it comes to our national-security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that’s out there,” Obama said, in the full quote.

Reporter Steve Kroft further pressed Obama on whether such events as the killing of the US ambassador to Libya have caused him to rethink his support for Middle Eastern governments that came to power as a result of the Arab Spring.

“The question presumes that somehow we could have stopped this wave of change. I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy.... But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road,” said Obama.

Conservatives have pushed back hard on these comments, saying that describing the murder of Americans as “bumps in the road” is insensitive and that Israel is a close ally of the US, not a source of “noise.”

Liz Cheney – a former State Department official and daughter of Bush VP Dick Cheneytweeted that this exchange was “shameful,” for instance.

For his part, Romney appeared to have trouble with this question from reporter Scott Pelley: “Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don’t have it today?”

Romney said the US does currently provide such care, in the form of free emergency-room care. “If someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance and take them to the hospital and give them care,” said Romney.

Different states have different ways of handling this, said Romney, as some use clinics and some use emergency rooms. But liberals were quick to assert that this way of handling health care for the uninsured is expensive, inefficient, ineffective, and as burdensome to taxpayers as any national government program.

“Right, if you lack health insurance, you can’t receive regular medical treatment, but if your illness develops to the point where you are carted off to the emergency room, you will get treatment, though you will also get a bill that may ruin you financially,” wrote Jonathan Chait on Monday on his Daily Intel blog at New York Magazine.

In addition, Romney declined to provide any further details about his proposed tax plan, including which deductions he would get rid of to enable the federal government to lower tax rates without losing tax revenue.

When Mr. Pelley noted that the “devil is in the details” on tax policy, Romney seemed to agree that presenting his proposals as he does sugarcoats the hard choices involved. Though perhaps that’s not what he meant to do.

“The devil’s in the details,” Romney replied. “The angel is in the policy, which is creating more jobs.”

There was other stuff to chew over: Obama admitted some of his political ads go too far, millionaire Romney defended his 14 percent federal tax rate as fair, and so on. Again, the whole interview, including the extra bits posted online, is one of the best side-by-side guides to the candidate we’ve seen yet. If there was a winner, it’s “60 Minutes” for showing once again what happens when skilled and prepared reporters conduct candidate interviews.

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