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Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney: the RD Interviews

The final presidential debate takes place Monday night. Reader’s Digest recently sat down with both American presidential candidates to get the inside scoop on their families, policies, favourite jokes, and more. 

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The November 6, 2012 American election is coming on fast and furious. Between presidential tours and debates, both candidates spoke with Reader’s Digest to reveal everything from their personal inspiration and leadership potential, to their hilarious lighter sides.

Up next: President opens up about family, focus, and his favourite word. Plus, Republican nominee Mitt Romney talks about memory, marriage, and his favourite joke.

(Illustration: Tim O’Brien)

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Interview: American President Barrack Obama

You wrote a book about your first term as president. What’s the title?
Wow! It always takes me a long time to think of [book] titles. It’s just like thinking of our daughters’ names. I remember we were in the hospital for the first 48 hours trying to figure out, All right, what are we gonna call this one? I think the theme of my first term would have to do with persistence…Somehow I think the title would speak to just sticking with it.

You said you made a mistake early in your presidency by not focusing enough on storytelling. What story would you tell now?
What I would’ve done better was to prepare the American people for the challenges we are going to be facing, the climbing out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Had I expressed to the American people that we are going to solve these problems but it’s going to take time…Trying to find that balance between projecting confidence but also letting people know this is gonna be a process. It’s not going to happen instantaneously.

Please finish this sentence: “The world needs the next president to….”
Grow the American economy. Because when the American economy is growing, the world economy is growing along with it.

I’ve read that your mother told you, “If nothing else, I’ve given you an interesting life.” What kind of life do you want to give your daughters?
The people I know who are happiest, in addition to having wonderful families, are also people who are making a contribution. Each of us finds our own way to make a contribution. I’ll probably warn them away from politics. [Laughs] But whatever path they choose, I hope that they will be thinking about what it’s doing for other people. Because, I’ve told them this before, I firmly believe that at the end of your life, when you look back, there are going to be two things you remember. It’s gonna be the love you had for friends and family and those moments when that love expressed itself. And then there are the memories of when you helped somebody out. I think that’s what shapes your life and gives it meaning. 

(Illustration: Tim O’Brien)

Next: Obama talks strategy, his favourite word and his favourite joke. 

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You’ve said you’re very even-keeled. But everyone feels down from time to time. What strategy or trick do you use to get back up?
I will tell you that my kids will always yank me out of stuff. So we’re pretty religious about family dinner at 6:30. And the great thing about living above the store is no matter how busy I am, I can walk up-it takes a minute. I can sit down, spend an hour with the girls, and come back down and work. But it pulls me out of whatever my personal struggles or challenges are, and it’s one of the great things about being a parent. You’re always reminded, Oh, this isn’t about you. It’s about these kids, their lives, and how you make them better. And then I’m a big believer in exercise. If I’m sort of in a funk, going out and just breaking a sweat, doing something. We have a little gym upstairs, and in addition to the usual equipment and the weights and the treadmill, there’s a little punching bag there…

We have a popular column called Word Power. What’s your favourite word?
Grace. I love the word grace because I think it captures what we strive for in life. It’s not just an individual thing. It’s not just a matter of excellence or something you’ve achieved. It’s something internal to you, but it’s also something that’s given to you. It’s not just individual, but it has to do with your relationships with others. You know, those moments of grace that we have-grace notes that we have in our lives.

What’s your favourite joke?
I don’t know if this is my favourite joke, but it’s my most recent joke. This is a true story, but it’s also a good joke. And it’s fitting for the season: So my campaign manager is in some meeting, and this couple has brought their four-year-old son. Charming kid, full of energy, and clearly the parents were very proud of him. So somewhere in the room is a picture of me, and the parents, prompting him, say, “Who’s that?” The boy looks and says, “That’s Barack Obama.” And they say, “And what does Barack Obama do?” And he thinks for a second, and he says, “He approves this message.”

Photo: Pete Souza/The White House 

Next: RD interviews Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

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Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney

If you had to write a book about this campaign experience, what would the title be?
The Longest Journey.

What do you want us to know about you that we don’t know?
I don’t think people know me terribly well, because I was governor of one state and haven’t been seen by people across the nation. But they’ll come to know me as time goes on. I’m a family guy. The most important thing in my life by far is my relationship with my wife and my sons, daughters-in-law and 18 grandchildren. And for me, this is all about them.

This campaign?
This campaign. The reason I’m in this campaign is for my kids and for their kids, and for the young people of America.

Please finish this sentence: “The world needs the next president of the United States to….”
Keep America strong. Strong in our values, strong in our economy and strong in our military might. We hope to never have to use our military strength, but the world counts on a strong America to keep the worst actors from doing the worst things.

“Americans need the next president to….”
Build a stronger economy and restore the principles that made America the economic powerhouse it has long been.

How do you define happiness?
Happiness, for me, is a function of the number of people I love, and I think joy and happiness are directly related to how many people are in our lives and how deeply we are bonded with those people. And so I’m happy if I’m with Ann; I’m happier if I’m also with my family and my grandchildren.

Eighteen grandchildren!
There is no day more joyful in my life than when I see all my family around me. That’s the best it gets.

Illustration: Tim O’Brien

Next: Romney lets us in on his strategy, his inspiration, and his favourite word and joke.

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Can you sum up in one word the kind of life you’ve given your sons?
Opportunity.

Every leader, every executive, every person wakes up some days and just has a bad time of it. Do you have a trick or a strategy to get your energy up?
If I have a bad hair day, I just think, Well, it will be an okay hair day tomorrow. Just put your head down and go. Life is a bit like being on a roller coaster: You get on and there’s no stopping along the way. There are some days when you feel like this is pretty tough, and there are the days that are exhilarating, but you just keep on going.

Who has been the most unforgettable character in your life?
My father. My dad was born in Mexico. He came back to the United States at age five or six. He was under the care of the government for a while because they came back poor. His family went broke more than once. And he was never able to finish college, but he became head of a car company, a three-term governor and ran for president of the United States. He is a person unbounded by circumstance. A man of character and vision who lived his life without guile.

What’s your favourite word?
Indomitable.

What’s your favourite joke?
I came into a large room of Republicans in Massachusetts, and I turned to my wife and said, “Ann, in your wildest dreams, did you see me running for political office?” And she turned back and said, “Mitt, you weren’t in my wildest dreams.”

Photo: Ben Baker/ Redux 

Next: Who said what? Romney and Obama dual it out in quotes.

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Obama vs. Romney: On America

“I make no apologies for having set high expectations for myself and for the country, because I think we can meet those expectations.”
– Barack Obama, from “Education of a President,” in The New York Times, October 12, 2010

“He is an unabashed, unapologetic believer that America is the promised land.”
– Douglas D. Anderson, Dean of the Business School at Utah State University, from “Romney’s Faith, Silent But Deep,” in The New York Times, May 19, 2012

(Illustration: Tim O’Brien/Thinkstock)

Next: What Obama and Romney have to say about Americans. 

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Obama vs. Romney: On the People

“The only way my life makes sense is if, regardless of culture, race, religion, tribe, there is this commonality, these essential human truths and passions and hopes and moral precepts that are universal. And that we can reach out beyond our differences. If that is not the case, then it is pretty hard for me to make sense of my life. So that is at the core of who I am.”
– Barack Obama, from an Interview with David Maraniss, Vanity Fair, June 2012

“If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.”
– Mitt Romney, from A Speech On Faith, December 6, 2007

(Illustration: Tim O’Brien/Thinkstock)

Next: The candidates battle it out over personal values. 

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Obama vs. Romney: On Values

“We were not permitted to be rude, we were not permitted to be mean, we were not permitted to be arrogant. We had to have a certain humility and broad-mindedness.”
– Maya Soetoro-Ng, Barack Obama’s Sister, from “Obama’s Young Mother Abroad,” in The New York Times, April 20, 2011

“Mr. Romney is quick to uphold rules great and small. During primary debates, when his rivals spoke out of turn or exceeded their allotted time, he would sometimes lecture them. When supporters ask Mr. Romney to sign dollar bills or American flags, he refuses and often gives them a little lesson about why doing so is against the law.”
– From “Romney’s Faith, Silent But Deep,” in The New York Times, May 19, 2012

(Illustration: Tim O’Brien/Thinkstock)