Two candidates, two anxieties

I’ll have more on the debate and the state of the presidential race in the upcoming issue of Maclean’s, but thinking back over last night’s presidential debate, the thing that stood out to me most — more than the near fist-fight over drilling licenses, or the “binder full of women”, or the “sketchy plan” or any other soundbyte — were two questions raised by audience members in the town hall.

They encapsulate two anxieties at the core of this election, one about Obama and one about Romney.

The first was posed  by a student named Jeremy Epstein to both candidates, but it captured the anxiety that without a change of economic policy, the next four years will be a continuation of the last four:

QUESTION: Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. What can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?

The second notable question came from  Susan Katz and captured a core anxiety about Romney:

QUESTION: Governor Romney, I am an undecided voter, because I’m disappointed with the lack of progress I’ve seen in the last four years. However, I do attribute much of America’s economic and international problems to the failings and missteps of the Bush administration.

Since both you and President Bush are Republicans, I fear a return to the policies of those years should you win this election. What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?

Listening to the candidates’ answers, it didn’t seem to me that Obama gave Epstein the economic answer he was looking for, nor did it seem that Romney assuaged Katz’s concerns. And in follow-up interviews after the debate, both questioners said as much.