BRADENTON, Fla., Oct. 15, 2012 -- Put yourself, as best you can, in President Obama's shoes for a moment. You've just lost a critical debate and seen that loss create a declining trend in your likelihood of being re-elected to the presidency. Your Vice-President has just dramatically upstaged you with a bravura performance in a debate against your opponent's running mate. Now you face another critical debate tomorrow night, so what do you do?
I've been both a debater and a moderator as a candidate for office, but my advice to the President is really based not on my experience but his in the last debate. Here are a few things I think will help him:
First, don’t stand for protracted periods of time with your head hanging down. It accentuates jowls in your face that are otherwise invisible, and communicates a "hangdog" feeling that is not appropriate and not attractive.
Don't be afraid to look at your opponent, but don't make a point of it. Look at him when something he says interests you, and look at the audience the rest of the time to gauge their reaction to your opponent - they are the single best guide you'll get to how you're doing.
Whenever you have the opportunity and the issue is worth it, speak facing the camera and with intensity, conviction and force. Let people see what they imagine a Commander-in-Chief looks like when he's laying down the law in a Cabinet meeting, or to the military. Don't belabor such comments, and don't break into this mode every few minutes. Use the energy you feel for rebuttal as the debate goes on. You can't lie as fast as Romney does, and I know you don't want to try. But you can marshal facts and deliver them forcefully after a period in which he's been spouting nonsense. Straighten us out, Mr. President.
When you must interrupt, do so decisively. Several times in the second debate your interruptions were not effective. Practice saying "Not true" with clarity and force. More importantly, do not allow Romney to talk over you; you are President of the United States, and although the debates seek to level the playing field, they are not so level that the presidency itself can be demeaned.
Humor is one of the great redeeming features of televised political debate. The people in the audience are indeed interested in policy and details, while people at home would like a few details but a general, honest and sincere description of your beliefs on issues. Humor is best when it's spontaneous, so check yourself to see if you constantly try to avoid it. When something you or your opponent brings a zinger to mind, fire away, but don't make jokes merely to win laughs. That doesn't win votes; we’re not electing a Comedian-in-Chief. Your folks ought to be able to come up with a good one about his five sons lying to him to try to persuade him by the volume of their lies. Make sure you mention that he is the source of that information, presented in the last debate. You might make the point, as he has observed, that the number of lies others tell is not what is important in the end when you’re trying to make decision. Say something like, “You know, my children don’t lie tpo me, so I dion’t know a lot about that. But…” The Republican Party and its Super PACs have told a whole lot of lies, and you can call it that.
I think it would help if you used a few details well when you criticize Romney on a personal level, as you should - moderately.
Here's two things: First, he's a big advocate for fair trade with China, but an even bigger advocate for profits from China's businesses - like his investment in 2009 in CNOOC. Here is calling for energy independence and development of domestic resources on the one hand, and raking in profits from Chinese oil companies on the other. How is that consistent?
A lot of people have criticized Romney for his lies about his declared positions as he tried to wriggle from the right to the center of public opinion. A key focus of your criticism, Mr. President, has been his role in taking over companies as head of Bain Capital and then shipping their jobs and manufacturing to China.
Well, the U.S. Attorney in New York has just charged Bain Capital with conspiring with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and the Blackstone Group - two other takeover artists - to cheat the companies they are taking over by not competing with one another. Emails back up the evidence revealed in the indictment last week.
You can make some points by pointing out that both of these things are relatively little-known - it's new information to most of us, and therefore more valuable than what we've heard a hundred times. And you can describe the charges with words like "reportedly" and "purportedly" instead of "allegedly" - people don't like that word.
Without trying to make your job even more difficult, Mr. President, try to remember that your presidency is just one of several very important things at stake in this debate. Many people will suffer if Mr. Romney is elected and begins the draconian cutbacks his fellow Republicans urge upon him in the areas of education and health care. Taxes on the middle class are unavoidable if he wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. It's also important to remember that a dramatically improved performance may help the Democrats recapture Congress and keep its majority in the U.S. Senate. You are truly fighting for all of us, Mr. President, and a great many of us are completely behind you - and not very far!
Mr. President, it's vital that you win Tuesday night's debate; without a clear victory, it may be impossible to slow the erosion of your existing pluralities in the polls in many swing states. You need to win, and you need to fight to do it. But you need to fight the right way. Don't try to win this debate with smirks and laughter, as Joe Biden did, but with the intensity of your character ands the truth of your cause.
Good luck, Mr. President!
Editor Joe Shea moderated the Los Angeles Press Club's "Secession and the City" debate in the Los Angeles Mayoral race of 2001. He was also, as a fact-checker at Esquire Magazine, the originator of the "Reckless Advice" column in the magazine.
Copyright 2013 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.