Like many here, I've spent a lot of time thinking about that first debate.  Wishing President Obama had been more succinct and forceful to counter Romney's fluent lies.  Aghast at the sheer number of lies, and disgusted by the talking heads' preference for style over substance. Wondering how anyone can win a debate while declaring that 2 + 2 = 5 -- no matter how confidently he repeats the claim.  And wondering how President Obama can effectively counter all that lying.  

Now, I think the President and his advisors knew that Romney would lie.  And I think they were right to avoid a point-by-point rebuttal during the debate.  That’s a loser’s game.  It would make the President look weak and defensive.  He would have to fully rebut the complete untruths while offering complicated explanations for the partial fabrications.  One tiny slip-up, and instantly we’d hear Both sides do it!  He just made up that number out of thin air!  He’ll say anything to win!

So instead, their game plan was to counter the lies after the speech.  It was obvious, wasn’t it, that they had the he’s a lying sack of protoplasm ads ready to roll.  And in the long view, that approach may be highly effective.  I think it has colored the post-debate commentary, but I’m so far removed from the world of low-information voters that I can’t begin to make claims about how they see it.

It would be much better if there were a way for President Obama to counter the lies during the debate.  

But can he?

If you care to read my answer, kindly follow me below Snidely Whiplash’s orange moustache collage.

How can President Obama counter the lies?

Not by rebutting each lie.

Instead, he should simply point out briefly that Romney has been on both sides of the issue, or has said multiple conflicting things.  Call out Romney’s dishonesty, encourage people to review the public record -- You don’t have to take my word for it! -- and move on to his own substantive answer.

Debate #2 will be a townhall format, which ought to be perfect for this approach.  The idea is for President Obama to score points by briefly alluding to Romney’s record of stretching the truth, then tacking quickly to his own straightforward answer.  

Something like

Well, I'm not going to get into a "he said, he said" dispute with Governor Romney on this question, although he's on the record as saying quite the opposite.  There have been times when he has said that it's the worst possible choice to have uninsured people rely on emergency room treatment.  That it's expensive, and they don't pay for it.  He actually likened that sort of care to "socialized medicine."  Those are his words.  Then, last month, on 60 Minutes, he offered emergency room care as the right solution.  So he's been on both sides of this issue.  His statements are part of the public record, and I'll let the American people decide what they think of his statement tonight.
But I've been consistent on this issue:  etc. etc.
It's what Sun Tsu's younger brother Melvin calls the I'm not going to talk about how you lie like a rug tactic, and I think it would work beautifully in the town hall.

I don't know how Romney could effectively counter it.  I suspect he would attempt to bluff and bluster his way through it, and President Obama could simply reply,

One thing I've learned is that the American people -- and the news media -- pay a lot of attention to what we're saying, Governor Romney.  And they should.  And I take it as my responsibility to speak forthrightly and as clearly as I can about what I believe, and about how I want to move our country forward.  You all here [gesturing to the audience] -- you don't need me to be your source for what Governor Romney has said during this campaign.  There's a full public record online, there are fact checkers -- although I know the governor's campaign has said they don't feel beholden to fact checkers [flash big grin].  

And, you know, after our first debate, Governor Romney and his staff had to walk back a few of the claims he made.  He said his health care plan covered Americans with pre-existing conditions -- and almost immediately after the debate, one of his senior advisors admitted, well, no, his health care plan doesn't cover pre-existing conditions.  Governor Romney said that his proposed tax cuts don't total five trillion dollars -- but every independent source that has read his proposal to cut taxes by 20% says that it's a five trillion dollar cut.  One source said it's 4.8 trillion dollars.  So perhaps that's what Governor Romney meant:  It's not a five trillion dollar tax cut!  It's only a 4.8 trillion dollar tax cut.

I'm very proud of the fact that, with all the attention on the first debate, I don't need to "unsay" anything I told the American people that night.  And that's because I think it's my job to tell you, forthrightly and as clearly as I can, my vision for continuing to move America forward.

This is an important pivot, I think.  Don’t engage Romney on individual lies.  Make him defensive by turning the debate into one of honesty versus unprincipled opportunism.

It’s what I hope to see President Obama do, because I’d love to see him crush Romney in the debates.  For the record, I don’t think it’ll matter.  I think President Obama is going to win no matter what happens in the debates.  I have tremendous faith in his organization and ground game, and I think he’s on the right side of history.  I think early voting will strongly favor him (I’ve already voted, and oh, my God did it feel good!).

But I’d like to see that slimy used car salesman on the Denver stage find himself being handed a dish called your ass a l’orange by President Obama.

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