Understanding candidates and policies the prescription for educated voters

With both sides throwing around falsities, it’s hard to know the candidates’ actual views. When you vote in November, you should know more about the candidates than that one is a Democrat and the other a Republican.

h3. Health Care

*Obama*

The president has made health care a key tenet of his policy. The Affordable Care Act might as well be the Obamacare Act by now, as the president has made health care reform the defining policy of his administration. Even the president calls his policy Obamacare, a term once used as a disparaging shorthand by Republicans.

Most aspects of Obamacare, such as requirements for many small businesses to provide health insurance and allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26, are immensely popular. The most unpopular part of the bill is the individual mandate, which requires that Americans have health insurance or pay a fine, and was upheld by the Supreme Court as a constitutional tax this summer.

The mandate may feel like government overreach, but the mandate is fiscally necessary if insurance companies are to have enough money to uphold the rest of Obamacare’s policies.

*Romney*

Until recently, Romney has said he would repeal Obamacare on the first day of his presidency. However, Romney then said on “Good Morning America” that he would keep some aspects of the president’s health care plan, including covering pre-existing conditions and letting children stay on their parents’ plan until after they’ve left home.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney instituted the most progressive health care plan in the state’s history, and it closely resembled Obamacare. Romney has said the plan worked only on a state level and would be unmanageable at the national level.

Romney’s flip-flopping on health care makes it hard to know what he would do as president. Would he follow congressional Republicans’ calls and repeal Obamacare? How much of the law would he keep? To say the least, Romney’s plan, and intention, is muddled.

h3. Foreign policy

*Obama*

Obama’s single greatest and most popular accomplishment has been killing Osama bin Laden. But one of Obama’s greatest moral failures has also come from the Middle East: the repeated use of drone strikes to eliminate enemies.

Drone strikes have killed hundreds of innocent men, women and children. Three Americans have also been killed, and their families are suing White House administrators, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

But Obama’s status is undeniable in the international community. His mere election propelled him to a Nobel Peace Prize. And although the promise of Obama’s presidency hasn’t panned out entirely, he’s still an international celebrity and holds more clout overseas than Romney ever could. He’s had four years to solidify a generally positive relationship with the international community. Romney, with little foreign policy experience, would have to start from scratch.

Despite Obama’s Nobel, he has a mixed bag in terms of war and violence. Although he is scaling down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. was a leader in Libya under Obama’s administration. The president, interestingly, has seemed unwilling to get involved in Syria or Iran, though.

*Romney*

The international community has not taken well to Mitt Romney. Romney has called Russia the United States’ “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” and, although Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would still work with Romney, his election would further a gap over the anti-missile shield the United States’ anti-missile shield in Europe.

Bill Clinton wasn’t kidding when he said at the Democratic National Convention that Romney acts as if he only knows Russia by watching “Rocky IV.”

Romney’s policy on Iran is questionable. He has said he would consider military action against a nuclear Iran, but military leaders in both the U.S. and Israel have shown great fear of stirring up a region-wide war.

h3. Economy

*Obama*

Aside from Franklin Roosevelt, no president has inherited an economy worse than what Obama has. Obama’s stimulus program helped save the auto and financial industries. Without them, many economists say unemployment would be even higher.

Some economists even say the stimulus package didn’t go far enough, that Obama should have put even more money into the economy. Obama’s recovery program definitely didn’t bring the country out of recession or fix the economy overnight, but if he had not had to compromise with congressional Republicans, the president might have been able to help more.

The economy shows few signs of speeding up. Under Obama, jobs have grown but not enough to keep up with population growth. Presidents get altogether too much criticism — or credit — for economic matters, though, and it’s likely that the economy will largely be shaped by events in Europe and China.

*Romney*

Romney would lower taxes, cut regulations and further free trade. Some economists think this is the way to go and that Obama has relied too much on governmental and stimulus spending.

With the myriad different opinions economists have, it’s safe to say no one knows what’s right to do. And it’s worth noting that if Republicans win Congress, which seems likely, Romney would face much less legislative opposition to his economic plan than President Obama has. If no one knows the right answer, maybe the best way to go is with the candidate who would be able to implement his plan the best.

Romney also has proven credentials as a businessman, and he is credited with saving the Salt Lake City Olympics almost single-handedly. Running a country isn’t the same as running a business, but business savvy is definitely helpful for a president.

h3. Women’s issues and abortion

*Obama*

Obama is pro-abortion rights. Many women’s groups, including the National Organization for Women, have endorsed the president and for good reason.

Obama’s health care reform included key provisions for women’s health, including providing free birth control through employers, although some religious organizations are exempt. Obama and Democrats in general have a strong record of supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Some would say Obama’s trying appeal to women is a cynical attempt to garner favor with more than half of voting Americans. But whatever his motives, Obama’s track record with abortion and women’s rights is certainly stronger than Romney’s.

*Romney*

Romney differs from the Republican platform and would allow abortion in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s health is in jeopardy. As with health care, he has a history of flip-flopping on the issue, so no one knows for sure what he would do while in office.

But one thing is sure: Disallowing some abortions would be logistically unworkable. Reuters columnist Steven Brill made an excellent point in August wondering just how a woman would prove her unwanted pregnancy came from a rape. Would she have to wait months for a conviction? What if she doesn’t want to press charges? What if the man she says rapes her is found not guilty? No matter how you feel morally about abortion, only allowing them in some cases would be practically unworkable.

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The American public and college students in particular often complain that it’s hard to find out about presidential candidates and their policies. If you want to know more, read a newspaper every day. University students get The New York Times for free. Websites like Politico and CNN.com offer excellent analysis of both candidates. Many websites, including the Huffington Post, publish week-in-review articles that sum up important events.

Use fact-checking websites like PolitiFacts to find out what the candidates are lying about (usually each other). PolitiFacts even has an app called “Settle It!” that allows you settle political debates and research candidates on the go. Websites like votesmart.org offer quizzes to see which candidate aligns more with your political beliefs.