CBS' 60 Minutes interviewed President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for a program that aired on September 23, 2012. The program also offered these unaired excerpts from the interviews.
[Editor's Note: Click here for more CFR 2012 campaign resources, which examine the foreign policy and national security dimensions of the presidential race.]
From the CBS website: "The following script is from "Campaign 2012" which aired on Sept. 23, 2012. Scott Pelley and Steve Kroft are the correspondents."
Tonight, conversations with the candidates for president of the United States. We interviewed Barack Obama and Mitt Romney over the last few weeks and we asked about a wide variety of issues. The very first edition of 60 Minutes, in 1968, featured candidates Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. Now, as we approach our 45th season, we hope you'll get a better picture of where today's candidates want to lead the country. Steve Kroft will talk with the president.
But we'll start with Gov. Romney. We asked Mr. Romney how his vision differs from the president's because recently Mr. Obama said this election is the clearest choice in a generation.
Gov. Mitt Romney: I think the president's right. I think this is a very clear choice for the American people as to what America's future will look like. The president's vision is one of a larger and larger government with trillion dollar deficits that promises everything to everyone. That's the course that he has laid out. His policy for the economy is more stimulus, more government spending. My course is very different than that. Mine says, "Make government smaller. Don't build these massive deficits that pass debt onto our kids, rebuild the foundation of America's strength with great homes, great schools, with entrepreneurship and innovation. Keep government as a-- if you will, facilitator of freedom in America. But don't have government take away the rights and the freedoms of the American people."
Scott Pelley: Ten years ago, when you were running for governor of Massachusetts, you were solidly pro-choice on abortion. Now you're against abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother. When you were running for governor, you ridiculed the idea of signing a "no new taxes" pledge, and yet now you've signed one. Some people, Governor, have an uneasy feeling that you're not constant, that you say whatever you have to say in a particular moment.
Unaired excerpts from the Obama, Romney interviews
The conversation continues online with the 2012 presidential candidates. Here's what you didn't see on the 60 Minutes broadcast.
Romney: Well they can look at my record. I understand that my opposition will do its very best to try and change, anyway they can, the narrative to fit their objectives. The president has certainly changed his view on a whole host of things. He was going to close Guantanamo. It's open. Military tribunals were going to be ended, now military tribunals continue. The president was opposed to same sex marriage, now he's in favor of same sex marriage. So I--
Pelley: But what about you?
Romney: So I--
Pelley: People wonder, "Does Romney believe the things that he says?" You say what to those people?
Romney: The principles I have are the principles I've had from the beginning of my political life. But have I learned? Have I found that some things I thought would be effective turned out not to be effective? Absolutely. If you don't learn from experience, you don't learn from your mistakes. Why, you know, you ought to be fired.
We spoke with the former governor of Massachusetts as he pitched a plan for a different nation; a government smaller than most Americans have ever seen, reform of Medicare and Social Security, a balanced budget and cuts in tax rates.
Pelley: What would the individual federal income tax rates be?
Romney: Well, they would be the current rates less 20 percent. So the top rate, for instance, would go from 35 to 28. Middle rates would come down by 20 percent as well. All the rates come down. But unless people think there's going to be a huge reduction in the taxes they owe, that's really not the case. Because we're also going to limit deductions and exemptions, particularly for people at the high end. Because I want to keep the current progressivity in the code. There should be no tax reduction for high income people. What I would like to do is to get a tax reduction for middle income families by eliminating the tax for middle income families on interest, dividends, and capital gains.
Pelley: The tax rate for everyone in your plan would go down.
Romney: That's right.
Pelley: But because you're going to limit exemptions and deductions, everybody's going to essentially be paying the same taxes.
Romney: That's right. Middle income people will probably see a little break, because there'll be no tax on their savings.
Pelley: Now, you made on your investments, personally, about $20 million last year. And you paid 14 percent in federal taxes. That's the capital gains rate. Is that fair to the guy who makes $50,000 and paid a higher rate than you did?
Romney: It is a low rate. And one of the reasons why the capital gains tax rate is lower is because capital has already been taxed once at the corporate level, as high as 35 percent.
Pelley: So you think it is fair?
Romney: Yeah, I think it's the right way to encourage economic growth, to get people to invest, to start businesses, to put people to work.
Pelley: And corporate tax rates?
Romney: Corporate tax rates, also, I'd bring down and with the same idea. Let's get rid of some of the loopholes, deductions, special deals, such that we're able to pay for the reduction. I don't want a reduction in revenue coming into the government.
We followed the governor last week on his relentless schedule; campaigning, raising money, practicing for the debates. And in Boston, we asked him exactly which tax deductions and exemptions he intended to eliminate.
Romney: Well, that's something Congress and I will have to work out together. My experience with the government--
Pelley: You're asking the American people to hire you as president of the United States. They'd like to hear some specifics.
Romney: Well, I can tell them specifically what my policy looks like. I will not raise taxes on middle income folks. I will not lower the share of taxes paid by high income individuals. And I will make sure that we bring down rates, we limit deductions and exemptions so we can keep the progressivity in the code, and we encourage growth in jobs.
Pelley: And the devil's in the details, though. What are we talking about, the mortgage deduction, the charitable deduction?
Romney: The devil's in the details. The angel is in the policy, which is creating more jobs.
Pelley: You have heard the criticism, I'm sure, that your campaign can be vague about some things. And I wonder if this isn't precisely one of those things?
Romney: It's very much consistent with my experience as a governor which is, if you want to work together with people across the aisle, you lay out your principles and your policy, you work together with them, but you don't hand them a complete document and say, "Here, take this or leave it." Look, leadership is not a take it or leave it thing. We've seen too much of that in Washington.
Pelley: You talk about balancing the budget without raising taxes. But to do that, you would have to have trillions of dollars in budget cuts. So let's be specific in this interview: what would you cut?
Romney: The first big one is I'm not going to go forward with Obamacare. I will repeal Obamacare. It costs about $100 billion a year. Second big area is taking major government programs at the federal level, turning them back to the states, where they'll grow at the rate of inflation, not at a multiple of that rate. And that saves about $100 billion a year. And finally, I'll cut back on the size of government itself, as well as go after the fraud and abuse and inefficiency that's always part of a large institution like our government.
Pelley: You would move some government programs to the states. What would they be?
Romney: Well, for instance, Medicaid is a program that's designed to help the poor. Likewise, we have housing vouchers and food stamps, and these help the poor. I'd take the dollars for those programs, send them back to the states, and say, "You craft your programs at your state level and the way you think best to deal with those that need that kind of help in your state."
Pelley: So how does moving those programs to the states bring relief to the taxpayer?
Romney: Because I grow them only at the rate of inflation, or in the case of Medicaid, at inflation plus one percent, that's a lower rate of growth than we've seen over the past several years, a lower rate of growth than has been forecast under federal management. And I believe on that basis you're going to see us save about $100 billion a year.
Pelley: So you're going to cap the growth on those social welfare programs?
Romney: Exactly right.
Pelley: Why would shrinking the federal government on the large scale that you have in mind not throw the country back into recession?
Romney: Well, the plan I have to go after the deficit and to shrink federal spending is metered out in a very careful way, such that we don't have a huge drop off with an austerity program that puts people out of work in government. But instead, through attrition, over time, we scale back the number of federal workers so I'm very careful in the way I do this.
But lasting budget reform isn't likely without doing something about Social Security and Medicare. They are exactly one third of the entire federal budget. That's one reason Romney chose as a running mate, Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Pelley: There is a lot of rhetoric about Medicare. What do you intend to do?
Romney: Well, I don't want any change to Medicare for current seniors or for those that are nearing retirement. So the plan stays exactly the same. The president's cutting $716 billion from current Medicare. I disagree with that. I'd put those dollars back into Medicare.
Pelley: Mr. Ryan has proposed something similar, almost precisely the same number, 716.
Romney: Yeah. He was going to use that money to reduce the budget deficit. I'm putting it back into Medicare and I'm the guy running for president, not him. So what I do in my Medicare plan for younger people coming along is say this, "We're going to have higher benefits for low income people and lower benefits for high income people. We're going to make it more means tested." I think if we do that, we'll make sure to preserve Medicare into the indefinite future.
Pelley: The idea under your plan for future seniors would be that the federal government would write that senior a check, essentially, and say, "Now, you can go buy a private insurance plan or you can buy Medicare from the federal government." Is that essentially it?
Romney: Yeah. That's essentially it. People would have a choice of either traditional, government-run, fee-for-service Medicare; or a private plan, which has to offer the same benefits.
Pelley: Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don't have it today?
Romney: Well, we do provide care for people who don't have insurance, people-- we-- if someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.
Pelley: That's the most expensive way to do it.
Romney: Well the--
Pelley: In an emergency room.
Romney: Different, again, different states have different ways of doing that. Some provide that care through clinics. Some provide the care through emergency rooms. In my state, we found a solution that worked for my state. But I wouldn't take what we did in Massachusetts and say to Texas, "You've got to take the Massachusetts model."
Pelley: How would you change Social Security?
Romney: Well, again, no change in Social Security for those that are in retirement or near retirement. What I'd do with Social Security is say this: that again, people with higher incomes won't get the same high growth rate in their benefits as people with lower incomes. People who rely on Social Security should see the same kind of growth rate they've had in the past. But higher income folks would receive a little less.
Pelley: So in the Romney administration, in the Romney plan, there would be means testing for Social Security and for Medicare?
Romney: That's correct. Higher income people won't get as much as lower income people. And by virtue of doing that-- and again, that's for future retirees. For-- by virtue of doing that, you're able to save these programs on a permanent basis.
Pelley: Balancing the budget will require sacrifice. And I wonder, what is it, specifically, that you're asking the American people to sacrifice?
Romney: I'm going to look at every federal program and I'll ask this question, "Is this so-- program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?" And if it doesn't pass that test, I'm going to eliminate the program because we just can't afford to keep spending more money than we take in. This is, this is something which is not just bad economics. I think it's immoral.
Pelley: So many people at home look at Washington and think that it is completely broken. You are going to have to reach out to Democrats in order to get anything done. How do you heal that breach, especially after a fairly acrimonious campaign?
Romney: There's no question but that Washington is broken. And I happen to think that flows from the president. I think ultimately the buck stops at the president's desk. He'd probably say the same thing. I think you have to have a president--
Pelley: The president would probably blame it on the Republican Congress, governor.
Romney: His challenge with blaming it on the Republican Congress is of course that for his first two years, right now the majority of his term, he had a Democrat Congress, a super majority in the Democrat Congress. And he had a whole series of things he said he was going to do, he didn't do. Leadership is not just working with your own party, but working with both parties. And I learned that. I was governor of a state with a legislature 87 percent Democrat. Just as you said, Scott, I realized I was going to get nothing done unless I had a relationship-- a respect, and trust with the members of the opposition party.
Pelley: Governor, what do you have to do in these last six weeks?
Romney: Well, I have to go across the country, particularly in the states that are closest, and describe how it is I'm going to get the economy going and how we're going to restore the economic freedom that built this economy in the first place.
Pelley: Can you win this thing?
Romney: I'm going to win this thing.
In Florida, a state with high foreclosure rates and unemployment over the national average, Romney hammered away with his economic message. That's where he believes the campaign will be won. He does not spend much time at his rallies talking about foreign policy -- a subject in which he has limited experience and no military background.
Pelley: Governor, the president has the United States on track to get most of our combat forces out of Afghanistan by 2014. Is there anything that you would do differently?
Romney: Well, I also agree that 2014 is the timeline we should aim for. I thought that the surge troops should have been brought back in November of this year, not September. I don't think you try and bring back troops during the fighting season. I think that was a mistake. I think it was also a mistake to announce the precise date of our withdrawal.
Pelley: How would you ease the anti-American sentiment that we see in the Middle East?
Romney: Communicate to nations like Egypt, and Egypt is-- if you will, the major player, 80 million people, the center of the Arab world. Egypt needs to understand what the rules are. That to remain an ally of the United States, to receive foreign aid from the United States, to receive foreign investment from ourselves and from our friends, I believe, around the world, that they must honor their peace agreement with Israel. That they must also show respect and provide civil rights for minorities in their country. And they also have to protect our embassies. I think we also have to communicate that Israel is our ally. Our close ally. The president's decision not to meet with Bibi Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, when the prime minister is here for the United Nations session, I think, is a mistake and it sends a message throughout the Middle East that somehow we distance ourselves from our friends and I think the exact opposite approach is what's necessary.
Pelley: There are a lot of unknowns in being president. I wonder how you would make a decision on whether to send U.S. forces into combat.
Romney: Well, it would be a very high hurdle. Number one, a very substantial American interest at stake. Number two, a clear definition of our mission. Number three, a clear definition of how we'll know when our mission is complete. Number four, providing the resources to make sure that we can carry out that mission effectively, overwhelming resources. And finally, a clear understanding of what will be left after we leave. All of those would have to be in place before I were to decide to deploy American military might in any foreign place.
Governor Romney has been criticized lately for comments during a private fund raiser when he said that his "job is not to worry about" the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income taxes and are dependent on government.
Pelley: You're the CEO of this campaign. A lot of Republicans would like to know, a lot of your donors would like to know, how do you turn this thing around?
Romney: Well, it doesn't need a turnaround. We've got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States.
Pelley: As you know, a lot of people were concerned about the video of the fundraiser in which you talked about the 47 percent of the American people who don't pay taxes. Peggy Noonan, a very well-known conservative columnist, said that it was an example of this campaign being incompetent. And I wonder if any of that criticism gets through to you and whether you're concerned about it at all, whether--
Romney: Well, that's not--
Pelley: --the concerns of Republicans--
Romney: That's not...that's not the campaign. That was me, right? I-- that's not a campaign.
Pelley: You are the campaign--
Romney: I've got a very effective campaign. It's doing a very good job. But not everything I say is elegant. And I want to make it very clear, I want to help 100 percent of the American people.
President Obama with Steve Kroft when we return.
Four years ago, as a young senator, Barack Obama offered the country more inspiration than experience.
Today, the graying president runs with all the advantages of incumbency, and all the encumbrances of a record -- dogged by a sluggish recovery and chronically high unemployment.
For nearly two years now, a Republican House has blocked almost every initiative he's offered.
His signature domestic achievements -- rescuing the auto industry and reforming healthcare -- remain controversial. Yet six weeks before the election, President Obama maintains a small lead in the polls.
We spoke on September 12th in the White House Blue Room.
Steve Kroft: Mr. President, you were elected four years ago, promising hope and change for the better. Your opponent argues that you have achieved neither. The country has rarely been so divided politically. And people are afraid for their jobs. I know you know that. People are fearful about the future for their families. How do you respond to that?
President Barack Obama: I think it's important to know where we've been and how far we've traveled. The month I was sworn into office, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. We ultimately would lose nine million jobs during the height of that great recession. We came in, made some tough decisions. Everything from stabilizing the financial system to making sure that the auto industry survived, to making sure that we cut taxes for middle class families so they had more money in their pockets, to helping states avoid massive layoffs of teachers and firefighters and police officers. And because of that, we've now had 30 months of job growth, four and a half million new jobs, half a million jobs in manufacturing alone. And the question now for the American people is, "Do we keep moving forward and continue to make progress or do we go backwards to the very policies that got us into this mess in the first place?" We probably have not seen a clearer choice in an election in my lifetime.
Kroft: On the campaign trail, Gov. Romney has been portraying you as a nice guy who doesn't have a clue about the economy or how the country works. That private enterprise is the engine of growth in this country. And that's what creates jobs, not big government. And that you're crushing economic freedom with taxes, regulations, and high-cost health care.
Obama: Well, it's a lot of rhetoric, but there aren't a lot of facts supporting it. Taxes are lower on families than they've been probably in the last 50 years. So I haven't raised taxes. I've cut taxes for middle class families by an average of $3,600 per typical family. When it comes to regulations, I've issued fewer regulations than my predecessor, George Bush, did during that same period in office. So it's kind of hard to argue that we've overregulated. Now, I don't make any apologies for putting in place regulations to make sure banks don't make reckless bets and then expect taxpayers to bail them out. I don't make any apologies for regulating insurance companies, so that they can't drop a family's coverage, just when somebody in their family needs it most. And, you know, the problem that Gov. Romney has is that he seems to only have one note: tax cuts for the wealthy and rolling back regulations as a recipe for success. Well, we tried that vigorously between 2001 and 2008. And it didn't work out so well.
Kroft: Your opponent, Gov. Romney, has another note. That's unemployment. Forty-three months above eight percent. Huge profits on Wall Street. You've got the stock market that's doing incredibly well. And yet you've still got this unemployment.
Obama: Oh, absolutely. Well look, nobody's more concerned about the employment situation than I am. The problem we have was the hole was so deep when we got in it that we lost nine million jobs. We've created four point six. We've still got a long way to go. Now I've put forward very specific plans that we know would create jobs. And that's not my opinion. That's the opinion of independent economists. My JOBS Act that I presented to Congress over a year ago, we said, "Let's help put folks back to work. Let's make sure that we are getting construction workers on the job, rebuilding our infrastructure." It's estimated that would create an additional million jobs right now. But we haven't seen full implementation of that plan.
Kroft: You've tried things that haven't worked. I mean, the jobs plan, the jobs bill -- you haven't been able to get it through Congress.
Obama: Well Steve...
Kroft: I mean, isn't that some of your responsibility?
Obama: I take full responsibility for everything that we do, Steve. But you're asking two different questions. You're asking question, number one, have I been able to get every plan that would work through a Republican Congress that said it's number one priority was beating me as opposed to helping the American people? And there is no doubt that I've been disappointed in trying to get more cooperation from those folks. And that's something that we're going to have to continue to do. The second question you're asking, though, is has what we've done worked? And the fact of the matter is that what we've done has been effective in improving the situation in every area that we're talking about. You know, when I made the decision to save the auto industry, that saved a million jobs. One in eight jobs in Ohio is dependent on the auto industry. So we've actually seen success.
Kroft: How are you going to get the Republicans to agree to a tax increase for the top two percent? You've been trying for a year. You haven't been able to do it. And you've got a majority of Republicans in Congress, including Gov. Romney, who has signed a pledge never to increase taxes under any circumstances.
Obama: Yeah, well, we--
Kroft: How are you going to get them to change their minds and make this deal?
Obama: I won't get them to-- make them change their minds. The American people will. I mean, ultimately, the American people agree with me that the only way we bring down our deficit is to do it in a balanced way. So, keep in mind, I've agreed with the Republicans. And we've already cut a trillion dollars of spending. And I've told them I'm prepared to do additional spending cuts and do some entitlement reform. But what I've said is, "You can't ask me to make student loans higher for kids who need it or ask seniors to pay more for their Medicare or throw people off of health care and not ask somebody like me or Mr. Romney to do anything, not ask us to do a single dime's worth of sacrifice."
Kroft: How are you going to make a deal? Why can't you -- Why haven't you been able to make a deal?
Obama: Well, be--
Kroft: And why do you think you will be able to make a deal?
Obama: When I first came into office, the head of the Senate Republicans say, "My number one priority is making sure President Obama's a one term president." Now, after the election, either he will have succeeded in that goal or he will have failed at that goal. Either way, my expectation is, my hope is, that that's no longer their number one priority. And I'm hoping that after the smoke clears and the election season's over that that spirit of cooperation comes more to the fore.
Kroft: You came in running as an outsider, somebody who was going to change Washington. Do you still believe after three years in this gridlock that we've had that - that somebody who claims to be an outsider can get things accomplished in Washington?
Obama: Oh, yeah, look, I mean, we passed historic legislation that strengthened our financial regulations. We passed historic legislation that will not only provide 30 million more people coverage, but also insures that you know, kids can stay on their parents' health insurance plans until they are 26 and seniors have lower prescription drugs. And so change has happened and positive change for the American people. I'm the first one to confess that the spirit that I brought to Washington, that I wanted to see instituted, where we weren't constantly in a political slugfest, but were focused more on problem solving that, you know, I haven't fully accomplished that. Haven't even come close in some cases. And you know, if you ask me what's my biggest disappointment is that we haven't changed the tone in Washington as much as I would have liked.
Kroft: And you don't bear any responsibility for that?
Obama: Oh, I think that-- you know-- as president I bear responsibility for everything, to some degree and one of the things I've realized over the last two years is that that only happens if I'm enlisting the American people much more aggressively than I did the first two years.
Kroft: The great recession began with the housing crisis. We still have the housing crisis. The banks got bailed out. The homeowners didn't. That was one of the decisions that you made. Very few homeowners have gotten mortgage relief. And your efforts to get the banks and the mortgage companies to renegotiate loans and modify terms have been underwhelming, to say the least. What happened?
Obama: We have helped several million homeowners avoid foreclosure and make sure that the terms of their mortgage were ones that they could pay. Not everything you do right off the bat -- when you've got emergencies here, there, and everywhere, and we're all putting out fires -- not everything's going to work perfectly the first time. So, for example, the housing mortgage assistance program that we put into place, we modified when we saw that there wasn't as much take-up as we wanted. And since that time, we've actually seen that the rates of people utilizing it go up dramatically. We still have a long way to go. But this is in contrast to Gov. Romney's proposal. When asked about what we should do with the housing market, he said, "Just let it bottom out." That's a quote. So he was opposed to even the modest proposals that we put into place.
While most of our White House interview involved domestic policies, the president's day was dominated by foreign affairs. The attack on the Libyan consulate that left the U.S. ambassador and three others dead had occurred the night before and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had inserted himself into the presidential campaign, criticizing the president and pushing him to lay out conditions for a military attack against Iran.
Kroft: How much pressure have you been getting from Prime Minister Netanyahu to make up your mind to use military force in Iran?
Obama: Well, look, I have conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu all the time. And I understand and share Prime Minister Netanyahu's insistence that Iran should not obtain a nuclear weapon because it would threaten us, it would threaten Israel and it would threaten the world and kick off a nuclear arms race.
Kroft: You don't feel any pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu in the middle of a campaign to try and get you to change your policy and draw a line in the sand? You don't feel any pressure?
Obama: When it comes to our national security decisions, any pressure that I feel is simply to do what's right for the American people. And I am going to block out any noise that's out there. Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we're in close consultation with the Israelis on these issues because it affects them deeply. They're one of our closest allies in the region. And we've got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel's existence.
Kroft: Have the events that took place in the Middle East, the recent events in the Middle East given you any pause about your support for the governments that have come to power following the Arab Spring?
Obama: Well, I'd said even at the time that this is going to be a rocky path. The question presumes that somehow we could have stopped this wave of change. I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights, a notion that people have to be able to participate in their own governance. But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam. The one part of society that hasn't been controlled completely by the government. There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment. And, you know, can be tapped into by demagogues. There will probably be some times where we bump up against some of these countries and have strong disagreements, but I do think that over the long term we are more likely to get a Middle East and North Africa that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more aligned with our interests.
Obama [Golden, Colo., Sept. 13, 2012]: This is a tumultuous time that we're in. But we can and we will meet those challenges if we stay true to who we are.
The day after our White House interview, we followed the president to the suburbs of Denver, Colo., a crucial swing state in the upcoming election, to ask a few more questions central to the campaign.
Kroft: Most Americans think we're spending too much money. The national debt has gone up 60 percent in the four years that you've been in office.
Obama: First of all, Steve, I think it's important to understand the context here. When I came into office, I inherited the biggest deficit in our history. And over the last four years, the deficit has gone up, but 90 percent of that is as a consequence of two wars that weren't paid for, as a consequence of tax cuts that weren't paid for, a prescription drug plan that was not paid for, and then the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Now we took some emergency actions, but that accounts for about 10 percent of this increase in the deficit, and we have actually seen the federal government grow at a slower pace than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower. In fact, substantially lower than the federal government grew under either Ronald Reagan or George Bush.
Kroft: Since the Benghazi tragedy, your opponent has attacked you as being weak on national defense and weak on foreign policy. He says you need to be more aggressive in Iran, haven't done enough to support the revolt in Syria, and that our friends don't know where we stand, and our enemies think we're weak.
Obama: Well, let's see what I've done since I came into office. I said I'd end the war in Iraq. I did. I said that we'd go after al Qaeda. They've been decimated in the Fatah. That we'd go after bin Laden. He's gone. So I've executed on my foreign policy. And it's one that the American people largely agree with. So if Gov. Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so.
We'll be back with President Obama and Gov. Romney in a moment.
As we continue our conversation with the candidates, we ask them about the qualities of leadership and the lessons of history. We begin again with Gov. Romney.
Pelley: What are the essential qualities of a leader?
Romney: Well, a leader has to have the capacity to build trust in the people he or she works with. People have to look at that person and say, "I may disagree with them. But I know where they stand. And I can trust them." A leader has the capacity of vision, the ability to see where things are headed before people in general see those things. That vision is typically a product, in part not just of their skill and brilliance, but even more their experience, their life experience. And so if you're looking for a leader to guide an economy, you hope that you have someone who didn't just study it in school, but someone who's actually lived in the economy.
Pelley: The historian, David McCullough, says that great presidents learn from the history of the office. And I wonder what you've learned from the history of presidents in the White House.
Romney: You know, I enjoy reading David McCullough's writings. My favorite book is perhaps of a biographical nature, was his book on John Adams, a person who had extraordinary character, a relationship with his spouse who may have been even brighter than he. We don't know as much about her as we do about him. But a man who had a very clear sense of direction, who helped guide the process of writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He wrote the Constitution of my state of Massachusetts. And, we saw in him an individual who was less concerned about public opinion than he was about doing what he thought was right for the country. And even though he was defeated in his run for reelection, he did what he thought was right for America. And I respect that kind of character.
Pelley: Presidents and presidential candidates are booked down to the minute. And I wonder if you ever have a moment to be alone with your own thoughts. If so, when? And what does that mean to you?
Romney: Well, at the end of the day, usually at about 10:00, things have finally wound down. And I'm able to spend a little time. I talk to Ann. She is on her own schedule. And we spend 15 or 20 minutes on the phone. And then I read. And I think, think about the coming day and think about what I want to accomplish. I pray. Prayer is a time to connect with the divine, but also time, I'm sure, to concentrate one's thoughts, to meditate, and to imagine what might be.
Pelley: You pray every night before you go to bed?
Romney: I do pray every night, yeah.
Pelley: What do you ask for?
Romney: That's between me and God. But mostly wisdom and understanding. I seek to understand things that I don't understand.
Pelley: Presidencies are remembered for big ideas, emancipation, Social Security, man on the moon. What's your big idea?
Romney: Freedom. I want to restore the kind of freedom that has always driven America's economy. And that's allowed us to be the shining city on the hill. The kind of freedom that has brought people here from all over the world. I want people to come here, legally, to want to be here. I want the best and brightest to say America's the place of opportunity, because of the freedom there to pursue your dreams. So my message is restore the kind of freedom that allows America to lead the world.
President Obama also reflected on the nature of leadership with us. We spoke following his campaign stop in Golden, Colo.
Kroft: What are the essential qualities of a leader, in your mind?
Obama: Well, you know, I think that leadership more than anything is about setting a course and describing a vision for people. And you know, in the history of leadership in this country that vision isn't always realized immediately. You know, Abraham Lincoln understood that we were a single union. And it took a bloody Civil War and terrible hardship and sacrifice to achieve that vision. And that vision wasn't even fully realized until after he was gone. What I try to do is to constantly present a vision of America in which everybody's got a shot, everybody's treated with respect and dignity in which the divides of race and faith, gender, sexual orientation, that those are not the determining factors, in terms of whether people succeed but instead it's how hard you work and are you trustworthy and are you responsible and you-- do you look after your family and do you love people and love this country?
Kroft: David McCullough the noted presidential historian said all the great presidents have had a number of common traits. And one of them is an understanding of history and an understanding of the history of the presidency. Is there anything that you've read or learned from your study of this area that has helped you? Any examples you can give me?
Obama: Well whenever I look at the history of presidents. I deeply admire-- the one thing that I'm always struck by is persistence. It's a quality that's underrated. Being able to plough through, being able to stay buoyant in the face of challenges. And, you know, I think that's a characteristic of the American people. And, I think our best presidents are able to tap into that resilience and that strength and that grit. And be inspired by it.
Kroft: Where do you go to kind of sort things out on your own? And when do you find time to just be alone with your own thoughts?
Obama: Well, I'm a night guy as it is. And so, Michelle usually goes to bed about 9:30. She's an early bird, maybe 10:00. The girls go to bed around 10:00. And so I've got those hours between 10:00 and 1:00 in the morning, let's say, where not only do I do some work, but I do some reading, I do some writing.
There are times where I sit out on the Truman Balcony and it's as good of a view as you get with the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Monument-- Memorial set back behind that. And so those are moments of reflection that, you know, help gird you for the next challenge and the next day.
Kroft: Many times in our history there have been big ideas like going to the moon or the Marshall Plan. This campaign some people think has been devoid of big ideas, not necessarily that the budget deficit and some of these things aren't big ideas. But what would you like to see happen in your four years?
Obama: Yeah, I gotta tell you, Steve, I think there's no bigger purpose right now than making sure that if people work hard in this country, they can get ahead. That's the central American idea. That's how we sent a man to the moon. Because there was an economy that worked for everybody and that allowed us to do that. I think what Americans properly are focused on right now are just the bread-and-butter basics of making sure our economy works for working people. And if we can accomplish that, there's no bigger idea than that. That's the idea that has attracted people to our shores for generations.