Debate Night: Was it all a “vulnerability gambit”?

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In the first presidential debate, there were three big problems for the Democratic incumbent:

1. As POTUS, he seemed glum and ill-inclined to prepare himself properly…

2. Mitt Romney’s change-ups really can throw a guy…

3. Obama was sticking to Part I of an elegant rope-a-dope strategy, which in that moment served to exacerbate the first two problems.

The strategy for that introductory debate was to demonstrate human vulnerability. Vulnerability and a humble nature. Keep it focused on yourself and your business. Show them your record and plead plaintively for their vote. Was it not over-the-top receptive, pacifistic and emo?

Tell me this wasn’t a strategy aimed towards maintaining and building upon a huge advantage in the women’s vote and establishing human connections with non-ideological independents as well as low-information voters.

They may not have liked Obama in the first debate, and it might have allowed Romney to leapfrog certain credibility thresholds — but they were still open to Obama. In fact, the masses were almost crying out for him to go on the attack. Why won’t he, already? “Let’s see something, kiddo!”

So in the second debate, even in the “town hall” format, he did. And he wasn’t criticized for being spiteful or negative. Most say he won, and most of the complaint was about moderator drama.

In this third debate, fortified behind podiums, he is going to be at least as “aggressive” as America demands their political gladiators to be — and he’s going to do it from a place of strength. Because people remember that first impression: that he seems humble beneath the demands of politics, and that he respects voters.

Things it would be nice were Obama to do:

1. Lay out and brand a debt reduction strategy. And specifically, tie tax increases on high earners not so much to “fair share” and “balanced approach” as to “debt reduction strategy.”

2. Stop the big Medicare counter-narrative. “He raided $700 million from Medicare for Obamacare.” Stop it cold.

3. Use the term “socialist” in a positive sense. True, that’s not so much a help for this election, but it is critical for the progressive movement to begin doing so from sizable, memorable pulpits. We may not get many other chances, and there are always excuses not to do so. Is it any wonder American progressives have been under-performing for the last sixty years, as McCarthy, Reagan and Limbaugh have made even thinking in communitarian grammar a taboo? Give me an American president who intelligently describes any policy of his as “socialist” during one debate, let that president win, and watch the cognitive walls come crumbling down.

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