Remember the speech on race? Obama needs again to become the most responsible man on the stage, questioning the way political events are represented, and becoming custodian of the public conversation itself. As early as possible in the debate, Obama should say something like this:
You know, I've naturally thought a great deal about reactions to the last debate, and wondered about what more I might have said, but one common explanation for shifting opinion particularly caught my attention. Again and again, I've heard folks on news shows say that the best way to judge who won was to turn off the volume completely and just look at the faces of the debaters.
Well, really, is this what we've come to? Fitness for the presidency is judged by who looks how? And then journalists come in with the polls to tell us if a candidate's performance, never mind any dishonesty, inconsistency, and evasiveness, is working.
If that's your conception of politics, folks, then Governor Romney's your candidate. I won't change positions every time I change states; I could never look sincere doing it. He's a truly great salesman, Governor Romney. He's made a fortune closing deals. The problem is, we all get stuck with the car--not a GM car, in his case.
But an even bigger question is, what's become of our public conversation? Our pundits, and they are everywhere, talk about the presidency as if I have been all powerful. As if there is no other half of the government called the Congress.
I proposed the Dream Act, and a jobs bill to build roads and bridges. The Republicans in the Congress, Mr. Ryan, Mr. Cantor and his friends, blocked it. They said, without shame, that their first priority was to embarrass me, and that if things got better, I might look good. So why cooperate in making things better? I pushed for months for a Grand Bargin to manage growth and the deficit. The Republicans said, no way.
And we know why. Because they know, or think they know, that the way our 24/7 news cycle works, there is no penalty for 'getting in the way,' as Joe Biden said the other night. The pundits would just come along and say, 'Well, the president hasn't delivered, has he?' That kind of soap opera is easier than learning about the separation of powers. right?
And then comes Mr. Romney--again, a candidate who tells us what he doesn't tell his big donors behind closed doors--to talk about 'leadership,' and that he will 'work across the aisle.' And a whole bunch of journalists say, 'Gee, didn't he say that well!'
I'm sorry, but our children are watching us. All of this matters. We need a better politics and a more responsible public conversation, including a press that believes in the old values: that we have a commonwealth to defend, and that their job is hold public officials to standards of evidence, what we used to call 'the truth.'
I ran hoping to uphold this sense of decency in the public conversation. And now pundits, even those on my side, are telling me I should be more aggressive. As if what we need is more aggression, more flim-flam and show, and yet another poll showing how our faces played.
Folks, you know my party and his party, his people and mine. I refuse to ask for your trust by betraying it. I ran believing in a different kind of conversation. What you see is what you get. Help me finish the job. And let's make the pundits wonder about what they've been missing by voting, not only for me, but for a Democratic majority in the Congress.
You see, Obama has to take control again, reframe the problem in a way that sharpens the choice between parties, not personalities--something Biden did, in his own way, but which could never be Obama's way.
Obama, again, has to seem the adult in the room exposing what is crass and simple-minded. Anyway, he could never be the pol. He has to make the reaction to his performance last time around seem a part of a larger social problem, which of course it was.
Groucho said, "Sincerity is everything; if you can fake sincerity you've got it made." Obama's challenge is to defend sincerity without faking it, or even appearing to.