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The President has a fundamental choice he has to make going into tonight’s debate and the entire 3 weeks left in this campaign. It is obvious that his head has to be in the game tonight more than it was in the first debate; that he has to be more aggressive in calling out Romney’s obvious lies and prevarications; that he has to do a better job of showing people the difference in his and Romney’s values and philosophy; that his language has to be clearer and crisper than the first time around. Any good debate coaches can help him with those things, and I’m sure Obama’s own fiercely competitive nature will make sure that he does all that far better than in round one. I think the difference between those two performances will be so dramatic that the perception will be that he did great in this debate no matter what else happens.

Even assuming that happens, though, Obama has a very big choice to make in this debate, a choice that will matter a great deal to whether he wins re-election. The choice is all about how he projects what has happened in the first term and what will happen in a second. Democracy Corps has just come out with an incredibly important new memo which deals with this choice. What the authors suggest is that the loss in the last debate, and the resulting bigger shift in this election, came not just from Romney’s strong performance and etch-a-sketch move to sounding like a Democrat, and not just from Obama’s weak performance and failure to effectively push back on Romney, but from Obama’s bigger framing. Here’s the money paragraph:

"In debate dial-meters conducted by Democracy Corpsfor Women's Voices. Women Vote Action Fund during the debate, Obama lost the attention of independents and unmarried women when he spoke about economic progress or talked about the progress of the last four years. With most of the President's surrogates saying, "give him more time to finish the job" and with the President closing the debate almost making the same small offer, Romney got the opportunity to be heard as the voice of change."
President Obama, like my old boss President Clinton in the ’94 cycle, wants to convince people that things really are getting steadily better, but voters just aren’t feeling it, and this dynamic is rapidly becoming the biggest barrier to his winning re-election. It is the most natural instinct in the world for a politician to brag about the good things they think they've done, but if you do too much of it when people are feeling bad about how things have gone, it makes you sound out of touch. This was exactly how Obama sounded for much of the first debate.

The challenge is that an incumbent President running for re-election can't walk away from his first term, and I don't think the President should. He saved the American auto industry. His health care bill set the stage for a long term solution for one of our country's most intractable long term economic problems. His financial reform bill accomplished some important first steps in re-regulating Wall Street after decades of badly misguided deregulation. He took the bank middlemen out of the business of guaranteeing government paid-for student loans, and used the savings to put more money into those loans. He's made major investments in the energy sources, and jobs, of the future. All of these things are admirable and popular with the American public, with the partial exception of health care reform, which is getting more popular all the time. And these are big important things that will really matter for the future of the American economy.

What Obama should be arguing is that in his first term he was faced with huge challenges, and responded by doing big things that will matter in the long haul. He should be making the case that in a second term, he is going to think big about our problems, and work to solve the big things that are still plaguing the middle class. He should be laying out an ambitious agenda for another term. It’s fine to claim credit for stabilizing an economy in free fall, but what he shouldn't do in the 2nd debate is what he did in the first, which is to make a complicated numbers filled argument as to how things aren't so bad and that we should just stay the course.  

The other part of Obama's choice is this, which is go back to talking about Democratic vs. Republican values the way we did at the Democratic convention, and the way we did in the period between the release of the 47% video and the first debate. We were kicking the Republicans' butt in that values debate, it was why we had opened up a lead, and we desperately need to go back to what was working. Obama should talk about the difference between Romney’s 47% vision for America, and an America where we are all in this together, an America where we look out for each other and invest in each other and help each other succeed. It’s not a numbers argument or a policy argument, but it is the most fundamental divide the two parties and tickets have. It’s an argument that the numbers and policy wonk first debate Obama never made, and he needs to make it tonight.

President Obama will be better in this debate, I have no doubt about it. And with the strong Obama field operation, we can win this election even if it stays tight. But to start pulling away again, Obama needs to move away from the language in the first debate about how well things are going economically, because voters just aren’t feeling it. Instead, he needs to keep the conversation focused on the big changes he wants to make in the future in order to make our country’s economic engine, our middle class, start running strong again. And he needs to remind people of the very big and important difference between his values and Mitt Romney’s.

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Comment Preferences

  •  right on - I hope they are listening (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the first debate struck me as the classic latter-day Democratic messaging failure: no real clarity on major issues or themes, no deconstructing Republican lies, but trying to win on niceness, competence, or whatever.

    The post-debate big bird ads threw that into sharper relief - too much reliance on a clever, feel-good micro-issue.

    An ambulance can only go so fast - Neil Young

    by mightymouse on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 06:42:13 AM PDT

  •  He has to counter Romney's voodoo math & lies (4+ / 0-)

    by proudly and strongly telling voters what he accomplished on the economic front in his nearly 4 years in office:

    --Got unemployment under 8%
    --Got the stock market back to pre-crash levels
    --Saved the auto industry and thousands of jobs
    --Saved the financial sector & re-regulated it
    --Prevented a second Great Depression
    --Got millions of people on affordable health insurance
    --Cut taxes for working people and the middle class
    --Made Medicare more cost-effective

    He also needs to directly and firmly refute Romney's lies and tell voters what would happen if Romney's policies were enacted--back to 2008 or worse.

    "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

    by kovie on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 06:43:24 AM PDT

    •  He has to say all that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      but I think he also has to say he recognizes that a lot of Americans don't yet feel the recovery.  

    •  Did you read the diary? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chi, psyched

      the writer said Obama needs to avoid crowing about turning the economy around when many still aren't feeling it.

      That's the trick here...the numbers are beginning to turn for the better, but checking accounts haven't been replenished, retirement accounts are still tapped out, and mortgages are still underwater. Obama needs to find that line between articulating progress while noting the challenges many Americans are still facing.

      In short, he needs to remind everyone the gop fucked them, and that's he's doing all he can to help them out and its starting to work.

      •  I am disagreeing with the diary (0+ / 0-)

        I think it's clear by now that the "It's not my fault so just be patient, chill out, I've got this covered" line doesn't work with swing voters.

        "Liberty without virtue would be no blessing to us" - Benjamin Rush, 1777

        by kovie on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 07:29:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  So refreshing to read (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mightymouse, Supavash

    a reality based diary about the debates. t and r'd.

  •  Yes, Obama's small ball isn't (5+ / 0-)

    working. Needs to present ambitious proposals or at least present his proposals in a way to make them sounds ambitious -- like change.

    Stay the course is a losing message.

    Greg Sargent:

    Greenberg is releasing new research today backing up that point — and counseling Obama on how to prevent it from happening. Greenberg says dial sessions he conducted during the debate indicated that independents and unmarried women — two key constituencies — were unmoved when Obama talked about the progress of the last four years or when his surrogates said variations of: “Give him more time to finish the job.”

    Greenberg says this risks painting Obama as the candidate of the status quo — and that this is dangerous even if people believe the economy is recovering. Greenberg’s national polling shows that people believe the middle class’s problems run so deep that recovery alone isn’t enough — large majorities say our problems can only be solved with “major changes.”

    Romney is successfully exploting this, Greenberg says, with his heavy emphasis on his five point plan for the middle class, which also tests well in his polling. Romney has also made gains by contrasting that with the notion that continuing the status quo is unacceptable: “We can’t afford another four years like the last four years.”

    This explains Romney’s gains. For months he operated from the flawed assumption that he could win by making the race all about Obama. Romney began surging only when he broke through at the debate with an affirmative case for his own agenda — because voters began entertaining the idea that Romney represents change, Greenberg says.

  •  meh (0+ / 0-)

    team obama has pored over every bit of reporting on the last debate, i'm sure. he saw the same dial results we did.

    and those results now include the improved unemployment numbers and the debt decrease.  consumer confidence is at a multi-year high right now.

    What Obama should be arguing is that in his first term he was faced with huge challenges, and responded by doing big things that will matter in the long haul.
    he says that all the flipping time.

    as for the polling, we are offered zero info on how the voters were recruited.  if it was people who already planned to watch the debate and simply agreed to chime in for the pollster, that matters.  self-selecting samples always do.  there's also this to consider:

    By more than a 2-to-1 margin (67 percent to 29 percent) voters say we need to make major changes to solve America’s problems – 62 percent agree with that strongly. And a large majority (57 percent) wants major changes in the way we govern ourselves.
    that stat has absolutely no bearing on what obama must or mustn't do to solidify support unless we know in what ways that 67% wishes things to change.  do they advocate more liberal economic solutions or more conservative economic solutions?
    What the authors suggest is that the loss in the last debate, and the resulting bigger shift in this election, came not just from Romney’s strong performance
    there has been NO enduring shift towards romney.  anything not including the immediate aftermath of the first presidential debate is basically right where we were.  if you wish to argue that isn't enough, fine.  but romney does not have anything resembling a substantive lead.

    Die with your boots on. If you're gonna try, well stick around. Gonna cry? Just move along. The truth of all predictions is always in your hands. - Iron Maiden

    by Cedwyn on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 07:09:08 AM PDT

  •  He should have been crowing about the improving (0+ / 0-)

    economy for a while now.  Things are looking bleaker for him  than the nation's economy.

    From Neocon to sane- thanks to Obama- and Kos.

    by satrap on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 07:15:35 AM PDT

  •  I agree somewhat (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Yes, the President has to talk about big ideas and what he will do to grow the economy.  I believe he has to mention the jobs bills that he has proposed which the Republican congress has sat on, and what was in those bills.

    But he also HAS TO talk up these accomplishments:  5 million plus jobs created in the private sector in the last 30 months.  Net job growth after entering office in the middle of the financial crisis with 800,000 jobs being lost per month.  Lowering of the unemployment rate to less than 8%.  American auto industry on the rebound and jobs saved because of that.  A soaring stock market having restored people's IRA and 401k values.

  •  Excellent Diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mightymouse, Cedwyn

    I always enjoy your posts. I wish they show up the rec list. Very refreshing and sobering at the same time. I am absolutely sure Obama will be much better in this debate. Even if he doesn't win, I think  it will stop Romney's momentum.

    As you say, and I am in agreement, if it remains tight, Obama's field operation will put him over the edge and you're seeing this in early voting results. But if he does really well tonight, and knocks the moderate mask off Mitt and exposes who he really is, he can blow this thing wide open again.

  •  Yes, it's how he projects what happened (0+ / 0-)

    during his Presidency and not what ACTUALLY happened that's importance. Makes total sense to me. After all, any other American President got to stand on his ACTUAL record, but to win over Democrats, this Democratic president has to DANCE.

    I hope the President wears a comfortable suit and his slipperiest George Jefferson wingtips so he can do what's expected of him. DANCE.

    Chief Justice John Roberts to President Barack Obama: "I'm not always there when you call, but I'm always on time..."

    by tha puddin on Tue Oct 16, 2012 at 07:27:27 AM PDT

  •  a focus on manufacturing in America (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    provides the perfect opening to bring up Sensata and hit Romney with that.

  •  But if he thinks BIG as you say, how will convince (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    people he can pull it off?

    That's why I said earlier that the POTUS himself should call out do-nothing Republicans and ask for the US to vote them out.  We are moving forward despite their obstruction.  Weaken their hand and watch us take off (or something to that effect).

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