A Debate Wish List for President Obama
I live in Ohio. That alone should induce pity, given that we're exactly 36 days from the November 6 general election (early voting started today as well). You may think you know what it's like to be subjected to literally tens of thousands of political ads a week but, I'm just saying? I highly doubt it. I don't even watch broadcast television, but they get me when I turn on cable. And when I am avoiding cable, they get me in the banner ads - on every kind of website you can imagine, there they are. Then, there's the mailbox, and my email inbox, and the yard signs.
My ace in the hole for putting up with this stuff is the fact that I've run for office before and was very well-prepared. Although I didn't have to debate anyone for a seat on my city council for a community of 6,000, I did have to learn how to speak extemporaneously and still sound authentic. On the third hand, I also knew in my head that I had messages to get across and points to make. So when I watch a debate, you can bet that I'm watching to see how the candidates walk these lines too.
Now, there's really no competition for my vote, even though I've been no more than a lukewarm supporter of President Barack Obama from as early as 2006 when I first got to meet him in person and interview him with a bunch of Ohio bloggers. But this year, after reading list after list of advice directed at him (and there are plenty directed at his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney,) I've developed my own guidelines based on the knowledge that if Obama can make this Ohio voter happy, chances are he'll be strengthening his position across the board as well. So here now...
How To Win An Ohio Voter Watching the Debate:
1. Learn from Al Gore and everyone who has ever watched the former vice-president make faces in his epic 2000 debate. Horrible, obnoxious sighs and expressions I don't even let my kids make.
2. Do not act all superior. Your assertion at the Democratic National Convention that you are, after all, president, a couple of weeks ago precisely served its purpose. It was not an overstatement or an understatement. It was the truth. I did this when I ran - I called myself a full-time resident. Members of City Council with second homes who didn't know this city during the winter months thought that I was intending for residents to think that they were absentee council members. No intent whatsoever - I was merely indicating that I'm here running the gauntlet with my kids during all 12 months of the year and what they bring to Northeast Ohio. They were not. Residents can decide for themselves. Making plain statements is always preferable to overstatements.
3. Take deep breaths and pause when necessary in order to not succumb to Romney's attempts to poke and provoke. He did this pretty successfully during the Republican primary debates, getting several of his opponents riled up and off-message. Stay on message, just like every single winning advisor, strategist and know-nothing nabob says when it comes to campaigning. It is the single best piece of advice any candidate will ever heed.
4. Talk about Americans as partners in this endeavor we call the United States of Amerca. Do not veer anywhere near the paternal, "You need our help - we will help you." Of course people who are in need of help want help to exist when they need it, but they don't want to be reminded that they are in need of it. Everything about Romney's approach to assisting people screams, "Let me help you little people." It is for him, not for them. Which brings me to the next point...
5. Make your answers about us, not about you. Yes, don't run from your record. In fact, regarding your record...
6. Use your record and use it proudly. You have one, as president. Romney not only doesn't have a record as president, voters barely know he has a record as a governor.
7. Remind Romney about his record as a governor and how alike it is to all that you want for the country. Especially those elements Romney is most afraid of and timid about discussing. Bring those things right out there and shower him with praise for being so prescient.
8. Do not inspire disdain for the business world. It's getting overdone. Just as hatred for the public sector must stop and a good leader will right that reputation, the business world need not be the enemy. We want to improve it, not banish it.
9. Be specific. About everything. Use rhetoric sparingly and only when it will be the most effective in driving home an example. We do not want empty words or clichés. We are getting enough of that in the ads, ad nauseum.
10. Be humble. You are at your best and most likeable when you allow yourself vulnerabilities. That is when people most want to continue to give you a chance.
And if you can give voters reasons to give you a chance to continue what you've started, without hammering on Romney in a bloated, overstated, superior and fact-devoid way, in 36 days, the majority of votes cast in this election will reflect a winning performance.