I know the conventional wisdom is that President Obama needs to be tougher tonight, that he needs to be more aggressive, call out Romney's lies, and make Romney seem unacceptable again. I don't disagree that he needs to do a lot better than last week, or that he should call out Romney's distortions and flip flops. However, I think the president's biggest task tonight is not to tear Romney apart but to make the case for his own re-election.
For the past two weeks, we have been scratching our heads wondering how one debate could have such a big impact on the polls, momentum and narrative. I think the reason the debate was such a game-changer is because Obama's lead rested on a shaky foundation to begin with. He built up a lead in September by seizing on Romney's screw-ups, rather than by making a compelling case for why he deserves another four years.
For months, everyone on both sides seems to have accepted the narrative that President Obama cannot win on his record, and that his best chance is to distract from the economy and the last four years and make Romney out to be an unacceptable alternative. Team Obama did a great job pre-debate of driving down Romney's favorables and making people wary of voting for him, but they failed to effectively make the case for the president's re-election, based on the impressive list of things he has accomplished in four years.
Tonight, President Obama needs to make the case that yes, we are better off than we were four years ago.
We are safer today than we were four years ago because Osama bin Laden and several other high ranking Al Queda leaders are dead, and because Obama kept his promise to end the unnecessary and costly war in Iraq. We are better off than we were four years ago because millions of Americans who were previously unable to get health insurance can now get coverage thanks to Obamacare. We are better off because an auto industry that was on the brink of collapse is thriving, the housing market is recovering, and the unemployment rate is down to the lowest level in three years. We are better off because the president signed into law the toughest consumer protection bill in at least two decades that prevents some of the bank abuses that led to the financial crisis. We are better off because the president ended discrimination against gays in the military and signed the Lily Ledbetter Act to enable women who are victims of pay discrimination seek recourse. The list goes on and on, but the bottom line is, Obama needs to make the case that as a result of his accomplishments, we are better off than we were four years ago.
This is the argument Obama needs to make tonight, and he needs to tell stories of people who have been personally helped by his policies. He also needs to lay out a clear vision for his second term, and make a compelling case that we will be even better off four years from now if he is re-elected. He needs to recapture the hope that we had four years ago, and make people excited to vote for him again.
By convincing voters that he deserves another four years, President Obama can rebound and make his re-election a mandate for his own policies, rather than merely a rejection of his opponent.