Transcript: Debate excerpts – President Obama on the role of government

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Excerpts from President Barack Obama’s remarks on the role of government at the first presidential debate held at the University of Denver, Colorado on Oct. 3, 2012:

“The first role of the federal government is to keep the American people safe. That’s its most basic function. And as commander-in-chief, that is something that I’ve worked on and thought about every single day that I’ve been in the Oval Office.

“But I also believe that government has the capacity, the federal government has the capacity to help open up opportunity and create ladders of opportunity and to create frameworks where the American people can succeed.

“Look, the genius of America is the free enterprise system and freedom and the fact that people can go out there and start a business, work on an idea, make their own decisions.

“But as Abraham Lincoln understood, there are also some things we do better together. So, in the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, let’s help to finance the Transcontinental Railroad, let’s start the National Academy of Sciences, let’s start land grant colleges, because we want to give these gateways of opportunity for all Americans, because if all Americans are getting opportunity, we’re all going to be better off. That doesn’t restrict people’s freedom. That enhances it.

“And so what I’ve tried to do as president is to apply those same principles.

“And when it comes to education what I’ve said is we’ve got to reform schools that are not working. We use something called Race to the Top. Wasn’t a top-down approach, Governor. What we’ve said is to states, we’ll give you more money if you initiate reforms. And as a consequence, you had 46 states around the country who have made a real difference.

“But what I’ve also said is let’s hire another 100,000 math and science teachers to make sure we maintain our technological lead and our people are skilled and able to succeed. And hard-pressed states right now can’t all do that. In fact we’ve seen layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers over the last several years, and Governor Romney doesn’t think we need more teachers. I do, because I think that that is the kind of investment where the federal government can help.

“It can’t do it all, but it can make a difference. And as a consequence we’ll have a better trained workforce and that will create jobs because companies want to locate in places where we’ve got a skilled workforce.”

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