It's not just budget arithmetic that separates President Barack Obama from Republican nominee Mitt Romney, it's vocabulary too. • Here are just some of the ways the two contenders see the meaning of words differently.
To Obama privacy is an essential right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution that keeps government out of Americans' personal lives. It protects women from having the government dictate whether they can have an abortion or access birth control. To Romney it's what you cling to when you don't want to release more tax returns.
Obama views adding 30 million people to the rolls of the insured, increasing the solvency of Medicare's trust fund by eight years and giving peace of mind to parents of young adults and people with a pre-existing condition as a major step toward advancing Americans' health security. For Romney, health security is conscripting the nation's emergency rooms to save the lives of the uninsured without getting paid.
Romney sees freedom as not having to buy health insurance under an individual mandate unless you live in Massachusetts. For Obama freedom is not having the emergency room be your only option for medical care.
Obama thinks Big Bird is the beloved character on PBS's Sesame Street who would come under Romney's budget ax. Romney agrees, even though he loves the giant yellow avian. But Romney's other Big Bird is the F-22 Raptor, which he loves more. Romney told a Virginia Beach crowd last month that he'd bring the mothballed plane back into production as part of his proposed $2 trillion, 10-year defense budget hike. The often-grounded planes have cost the United States more than $370 million each and were canceled by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. One would pay for most of the $445 million annual federal subsidy to PBS and NPR.
In Obama's world view the safety net is what government provides to undergird the economic security of average people. These programs reduce the stress of life in an uncertain world and include just what you'd expect: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance and food stamps. To Romney, the safety net is a European socialistic enterprise that leaches human initiative. He would see it slowly starved of resources by block-granting programs to the states, making benefits harder to receive or turning entitlements into vouchers. Rather than a safety net, let's call it a safety sieve.
Obama: The pluralism contributing to our nation's strength and vigor. Romney: Something in a portfolio.
Don't ask, don't tell
One of Obama's signature achievements was to allow gay and lesbian armed forces members to serve openly by repealing "don't ask, don't tell." Romney built his campaign around a different kind of don't ask, don't tell. Don't ask how he'll cut taxes 20 percent without impacting the deficit or enriching the rich, he's not telling. Just like he's mum about the money stashed in the Cayman Islands.
Romney thinks job creators are the millionaires and billionaires who should pay a smaller percentage of their income in federal income taxes than Warren Buffett's secretary. Obama thinks they are businesspeople who don't outsource American jobs overseas or take over companies just to "harvest them at a significant profit."
A just society
Obama says the "basic bargain at the heart of America's story" is that everyone gets a fair shot, does their fair share, and plays by the same rules — referring to how out-of-whack that bargain is today. Romney accepted his party's nomination by holding up America's free enterprise system as a model "dedicated to creating tomorrow's prosperity rather than trying to redistribute today's." In other words, keep your hands off my wealth.
Those are the competing views at stake in this election. It's hard to have a conversation when you don't talk the same language.