The presidential candidates on Tuesday laid out their visions of America’s role in the world while making subtle political jabs at one another in dueling foreign policy speeches shaped by violent protests in the Middle East and their closely fought campaign at home.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney smiled and joked with political foe Bill Clinton before delivering a speech that insinuated that President Barack Obama has not done enough to shape chaos overseas.
A couple miles away in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama indirectly referenced Romney’s statement, revealed last week in a secretly recorded video at a private fundraiser, that he doesn’t have much faith in peace prospects between Israelis and Palestinians.
Obama didn’t mention the video but told the assembled world leaders: "Among Israelis and Palestinians, the future must not belong to those who turn their backs on the prospect of peace."
Like Obama, Romney avoided direct criticism he’s made during recent campaign appearances to reflect the setting at the gathering of political, humanitarian and business leaders at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. The GOP White House nominee said U.S. aid needs to be more effective in elevating people and bringing about lasting change in developing nations plagued by instability and violence, including the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
In his remarks, Romney called the death a terrorist attack, language that Obama himself has not used but that his chief spokesman and secretary of state have. Obama told the United Nations that the violence in Libya "were attacks on America" and called on world leaders to help confront the root causes of rage across the Muslim world.
"We somehow feel that we are at the mercy of events, rather than shaping events," Romney said.
Romney said he would negotiate trade agreements and offer "prosperity pacts" in the Middle East and other developing nations to encourage open markets in exchange for U.S. aid. "The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise," Romney said.
In a reflection of his policy on welfare in the United States, Romney said work is the key to lifting people out of poverty abroad by providing self-esteem and a grounding in reality instead of fanaticism. That message also was designed to appeal to white, working-class voters, who Obama has been targeting by sending Clinton out to campaign for him.
Clinton gave Romney a warm introduction, which led Romney to jokingly acknowledge that the former president is helping his rival.
"If there’s one thing we’ve learned this election season, it’s that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a man a lot of good," Romney said. "All I’ve got to do now is wait a couple days for that bounce to happen."
New polling in key swing states indicates that Obama may indeed be experiencing a bounce since the Democratic National Convention, where Clinton offered a passionate defense of Obama’s economic record and said Romney "fails the test of fiscal responsibility," among other criticisms of the Republican.
Washington Post polls out Tuesday show Obama leading Romney in Ohio, 52 to 44 percent, among likely voters. Romney planned to join running mate Paul Ryan in Ohio for campaign events later Tuesday and Wednesday.
The president also had a slight edge in Florida, 51 to 47 percent among those most likely to vote, according to the Post polling. Obama fared much better among all registered Florida voters, with a lead of 9 percentage points, suggesting the president’s campaign will need to focus on getting the maximum number of voters to the polls.
Obama appeared at Clinton’s gathering later in the day and announced new initiatives against human trafficking in the United States and overseas. The president, who said he keeps a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in the Oval Office, called the practice nothing more than "modern slavery" and said new teams are dismantling human traffickers.
"We’re putting them where they belong: behind bars," Obama said.
Earlier, at the same podium, Romney tweaked an anecdote that got him in trouble in Israel this summer when he told Jewish donors their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who suggested the comments were racist.
This time, Romney said the most successful countries encourage free enterprise and protect the rights of individuals while enforcing the rule of law, replacing the word culture with the word freedom. "Economic freedom is the only force in history that has consistently lifted people out of poverty," Romney said.
After the Clinton meeting, Romney discussed education policy at the New York Public Library in a forum sponsored by NBC News. Romney said he would not prevent teachers from being able to strike, but would like to see parents exert more influence over their children’s educations than teachers unions. He repeatedly praised Education Secretary Arne Duncan, citing his focus on school choice and teacher competency, but declined to say whether he’d keep him in his Cabinet.
Pickler reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Ben Feller in New York contributed to this report.
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