In back-to-back forums Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney proposed changes to the nation's troubled public education system and said he would alter the way America assists developing nations, fleshing out domestic and foreign policy agendas criticized by some as too vague.
Romney said at former Bill Clinton's Global Initiative in New York City that, if elected, he would create "prosperity pacts" between the government and private sector to fuel economic progress in developing countries and the Middle East.
"The program will identify the barriers to investment, trade and entrepreneurialism in developing nations," Romney said. "In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law and property rights."
Romney delivered the address not far from the United Nations, where President Obama was appearing to defend his own foreign policy agenda.
Romney appeared onstage with Clinton, joking that the former president might boost Romney's campaign the same way he boosted Obama's. Clinton formally nominated Obama at the Democratic convention earlier this month and delivered a speech credited with helping bolster Obama's poll numbers.
"If there's one thing we've learned in this election season, by the way, it is that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a man a lot of good," Romney joked. "All I have to do now is wait a few days for that bounce to happen."
Romney's fellow Republicans have been urging him to broaden his campaign beyond his focus on the economy and to flesh out his vision for the country. Romney's aides last week announced that he would do exactly that, but then ended up being distracted by a leaked video showing Romney claiming that 47 percent of Americans -- Obama's supporters -- are dependent on government and see themselves as victims.
But even on foreign policy issues, Romney shaped his strategy to benefit the U.S. economy. He emphasized the need to involve private enterprise in helping developing nations, like a pilot farm program being run by John Deere in Africa. Government stimulus programs at home or abroad offer only temporary relief, he said.
In fleshing out his agenda, Romney is finally making the campaign more than a referendum on Obama, said Marc Thiessen, a foreign policy scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
"His campaign realizes that they can't just criticize Obama," Thiessen said. "They have to present an alternative plan."
Romney on Tuesday also offered a more detailed plan for education, pledging to give parents and students greater choice by funneling federal funding directly to disabled students or those with special education needs so each student "can take that money to the school of your choice."
Romney said he also wants to allow parents to judge the success of local schools by expanding a Florida program that grades schools from A to F.
"I want to provide incentive at the federal level to encourage states, to encourage new choice and new information for our parents," Romney said.
Romney again blasted teacher unions, saying they have "a different objective," protecting their members.
"It's fine for them to promote it," Romney said. "It's not fine for us to just go along with it."