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Asking for Real Ideas, Not Rhetoric, at the Presidential Debates

Next week, President Obama and Governor Romney will stand toe-to-toe in the first of three presidential debates.  For 90 minutes, the two candidates will focus on what they think is important to American voters in an unvarnished, unscripted, unpredictable debate setting. 

There has been a lot of shouting throughout this campaign, but not enough substance.  American voters have stated clearly and repeatedly that they want the candidates to lay out specific plans to get the country’s economy moving forward much faster, putting people to work in good-paying, long-lasting jobs.  They want to hear about new ideas to create opportunities for U.S. employers, while also giving entrepreneurs and small businesses the best chance to grow.

Several months ago, we launched TechElect – a nonpartisan effort to increase focus on policies that would do exactly what the voters want, namely, create good jobs fast.   We put forward six commonsense steps, each with bipartisan support, that we think will help to create jobs and drive prosperity across the country.  To date, we have seen progress through some of the topline campaign messaging from the candidates.  And the Republican and Democratic party platforms clearly denoted areas where the two parties agreed with our approach – enhance math and science education, keep more foreign-born  STEM graduates here in the U.S. to create jobs within our shores, reform the outdated corporate tax structure, and devote more resources to science, research, and innovation.

The debates offer the next best opportunity for the candidates to go beyond these topline messages and provide deeper details on their plans. 

To encourage this focus, ITI has reached out to PBS Newshour’s Jim Lehrer, the moderator of next week’s debate in Denver, and asked that he keep Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney focused on substance, not soundbites.  Here’s some of what ITI’s Dean Garfield had to say:

America needs an “all-of-the-above” economic strategy that leads to sustained, lasting economic growth.

America’s tech sector is committed to working with both sides of the political aisle to find solutions that work – putting people back to work while broadening and strengthening the U.S. economic foundation. 

The debate that you are moderating provides an enormous opportunity to learn from President Obama and Governor Romney the specifics of what actions they would pursue, and for the American voters to gauge their vision and approach on job creation.  Unfortunately, to date, the campaigns have resorted mostly to sound bites instead of substance.  The debate is the perfect forum for less rhetoric and more reality.

To that end, we ask that your questions focus on core components of the candidates’ economic plans.  While broad-stroke outlines emerged in the recent conventions and the party platforms, there remains too much ambiguity.  That’s why we propose you press them on the core pillars of their jobs plans.  In answering, we hope that the candidates will put forward specifics and provide U.S. voters with a clearer understanding of their priorities. 

The letter focused on the areas where the candidates have offered broad-stroke ideas, but where there are many unanswered questions:  immigration reform and workforce development, business tax reform, and expanding trade opportunities for U.S. companies – large and small.

The debate on Wednesday starts at 9 p.m. ET, and runs for 90 minutes.  It will be followed by debates on October 16 (a town-hall styled debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.) and then on October 22 (Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.).

Next week, we’ll offer analysis of what we heard in Denver, and we invite you to join the conversation.