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Reich writes: "Your passive performance in the last debate was damaging because it reenforced the Republican claim that you've been too passive in getting jobs back and in responding to terrorism abroad."

Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)
Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)

Memo to the President: Your Next Debate

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

15 October 12



From: Robert Reich

RE: Upcoming debate

Your passive performance in the last debate was damaging because it reenforced the Republican claim that you've been too passive in getting jobs back and in responding to terrorism abroad.

That doesn't mean you have to "come out swinging" this time. You need to be yourself, and one of your qualities that the public finds reassuring is your steadiness and authenticity, by contrast to Romney's unsteady flip-flopping and apparent willingness to say and be anything. But you will need to be more energetic and passionate.

And although the "town meeting" style debate in which you'll be answering audience questions isn't conducive to sharp give-and-take with Romney, look for every opportunity to nail him. Indignance doesn't come naturally to you, but you have every reason to be indignant on behalf of the American people.

Emphasize these five points:

  1. Not only is the economy is improving, but there's no reason to trust Romney's claim he would improve it more quickly. He's given no specifics about how he'd pay for his massive tax cut for the wealthy, or what he'd replace ObamaCare with, or how he'd regulate Wall Street if he repeals Dodd-Frank. His record to date has flip-flopped on every major issue. Why should Americans trust his assertions?

  2. Our problems require we pull together, but Romney and his party want to pull us apart. Romney has praised Arizona's draconian anti-immigration law profiling Hispanics, and has called for "voluntary deportation" by making life intolerable for undocumented workers. He is against equal marriage rights. He wants to ban abortions, and his party and running mate want to ban them even in the case of rape or incest. He's determined to make the rich richer and the rest of us poorer. Romney is beholden to a radical right-wing Republican party that is out of step with most of America.

  3. Romney's "reverse Robin Hood" agenda is inappropriate at a time when the wealthy are taking home a larger share of total income and wealth than they have in a century, and when the middle class is still struggling. He wants to cut taxes on the rich by almost $5 trillion - which inevitably means higher taxes on the rest of us; and over 60 percent of its budget cuts come out of programs for the poor and working middle class. He's determined to turn Medicare into vouchers whose value won't keep up with rising healthcare costs, and turn Medicaid over to cash-starved states. His comment about "47 percent" of Americans not paying taxes and taking government handouts was not only wrong (every working person pays payroll taxes, and every consumer pays sales taxes; and the biggest so-called "entitlements" are Social Security and Medicare, which are insurance programs that Americans pay for during their working years). The comment also reveals a callousness and divisiveness that's the opposite of what we need now. Romney wants to set Wall Street loose again when the Street's greed got us into the mess we're still trying to get out of.

  4. Romney views America as if it was one huge corporation, but we're not a corporation; we're a nation. He says corporations are people; touts his years at Bain as if making companies profitable qualifies him to be president; wants to deregulate corporations and Wall Street; and assumes CEOs and the wealthy are "job creators," and if we cut their taxes they'll have more incentive to create jobs. None of this is true. The nation exists to make lives better for all its people - making sure that corporations treat their workers as assets to be developed rather than as costs to be cut. Companies have been slow to create jobs not because of insufficient profits but because of inadequate customers. The vast American middle class are the real job creators, but they don't have enough money in their pockets because too many companies have broken the basic bargain linking wages to productivity.

  5. On foreign policy, Romney wants to rush to judgment, blaming the administration for not acting quickly enough in Libya on scant information. But that rush-to-judgment mentality is exactly what got us into Iraq eight years ago on the pretext of "weapons of mass destruction." Two days ago we marked the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. Had John F. Kennedy rushed to judgment as Romney wants to, humankind would have been obliterated in a nuclear holocaust.

Be indignant, but measured and steady - as you naturally are. Practice your closing (your last closing was listless) so the nation can see clearly the choice: We're all in it together, or we're on our own. your social media marketing partner


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+55 # BradFromSalem 2012-10-15 12:55
My five items for President Obama.

First, be yourself.

Second for each question asked clearly answer the question as directly as possible and as briefly as possible. Over the next 24+ hours practice making your points succinctly. This is a clear departure from your norm, but it gives you more time for;

Third, end with a question of Mitt Romney about the subject. Do not as you do on the campaign trail try to tell us what Mitt thinks, he is right there. An example of this is on the tax subject. After explaining, succinctly what you will do, ask the Governor, why is he proposing a revenue neutral plan when clearly we have a deficit and need more income to pay it off. If the format does not allow him to answer, thats good, if it does, even better.

Fourth, remind people that you have been consistent about nearly every issue over your career.

Fifth, be yourself.
+32 # AMLLLLL 2012-10-15 18:44
Good one on the tax neutral idea; and as Colbert pointed out: why lower tax rates if you take away deductions to end up at the same amount??? Unless of course you have something else up your sleeve...
+5 # spenel334 2012-10-15 21:10
Thank you for sharing that about Colbert; I hadn't known that. And what a great remark.
-1 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-15 23:35
For a moment I thought you were referring to the prime minister of Louis XIV - he could have come up with something to the same effect.
+2 # Michael Lee Bugg 2012-10-16 05:29
AMLLL, and BradFromSalem, great points! They would no doubt cut the top rates like Bush did which was not an "equal" tax cut because not nearly all Americans earned income to reach the top bracket! Plus, if they did actually cut deductions and close loopholes they would creep back in as amendments or riders on defense bills, just like most of the Neo-conservativ e crap they wanted during Bush. And the rich, who pay themselves with stock, dividends, and rent as opposed to wages, have their undeserved tax cut already because of the capital gains rate being 15% and because they don't pay Social Security tax on rental income or any income over $104,000! Tax cuts with our sort of progressive tax rates, should start at the bottom so that working poor and millionaires get the same benefit. In other words, exempt the first $30,000 of 'earned' income from federal income tax and from Social Security withholding! If a person is not working they don't deserve a tax cut!
0 # vicnada 2012-10-16 14:45
Sixth, be ready for when Mitt asks you whether you want pepperoni or sausage.
+52 # sfrider 2012-10-15 14:10
Just one comment on point #5:

The invasion of Iraq was not a rush to judgement. It is true that the pretext of "weapons of mass destruction" was created as an excuse for action, as well as the hysterical fear created by and maintained after the attacks of 911. However, neoconservative s had been advocating an invasion and liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein for a number of years prior to Bush assuming the Presidency, for example .

Bush brought many of those who had been advocating this course into his administration in key advisory posts. The attack on Iraq was an action long in the planning. Installation of the Bush administration essentially assured it would be fait accompli. The 911 attacks and trumped up faulty intelligence just made acheiving it easier.

As Romney has many of these same neocons and their devotees on his team as advisors, we can likely expect more of that should he be elected.
+39 # Billy Bob 2012-10-15 17:06
The founders of PNAC always said they wouldn't be able to achieve their goal of world domination, unless there was "another Pearl Harbor". It's quite a coincidence that they finally got what they were looking for.
+6 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-10-15 23:37
...just made it easier; as the "new Pearl Harbor" listed in the PNAC document.
+38 # Billy Bob 2012-10-15 16:51
"Your passive performance in the last debate was damaging because it reenforced the Republican claim that you've been too passive in getting jobs back and in responding to terrorism abroad."

If the President's performance at the last debate had been more aggressive it would have reenforced (sic.) the Repuglican claim that he's a "Chicago-style street thug" who "refuses to work with Congress" and is trying to become a "socialist" dictator.

In other words, the ONLY way NOT to reinforce Repug claims is to not be the Democrat. Especially as a black man, he was going to be accused of being the "TOO aggressive angry black man" if he hadn't been too passive.

For them, Democrats only come in one of two flavors:

1. Too weak, wimpy, passive, possibly homosexual, not real men.

2. Dangerously aggressive, street thug, etc.


The only way to REALLY win the game is to not allow ourselves to be suckered into it in the first place.
+7 # bmiluski 2012-10-16 09:30
The only way to REALLY win the debate is to call Romney out on his every lie. The president didn't do that last time.
+3 # Billy Bob 2012-10-16 10:23
You're right. Of course the right-wing controlled corporate media will harp on for the next week about how "rude" he was. That's what they did to Biden. Add in the fact that the President is part black, and you have "an angry black man".
+34 # brux 2012-10-15 17:00
> Why should Americans trust his assertions?

Yes, exactly, this is the point, we have been lied to by Republicans for as long as I can remember. Nixon's secret plan to end the Vietnam war. Reagan didn't know what was going on in the basement of the White House, Bush I - no new taxes. Bush II - non-nation-buil ding compassionate conservative. Really major misleading lies.

I think it is enough to point at that fact steadily and keep making the point. The constant lies and neverending spin are another matter too. We never had this nonsense before the Republicans, and they had to kill the FAIRNESS DOCTRINE to keep spinning those lies, and now they are after the last mainstream place Americans can get an alternative view of politics, PBS. PBS may not be perfect, but is damn good the enemy of the perfect?
+5 # bmiluski 2012-10-16 09:31
I think the President should remind people to watch romney's lips.
+71 # fredboy 2012-10-15 17:24
As a veteran speech and debate coach, I add:

1. use clear, concise, complete, and compelling statements.

2. keep your eyes and head up.

3. zero use of "uh"--each "uh" makes you sound uncertain, hesitant, and reaching for an answer or idea.

4. share extremely concise stories and examples.

5. project positivity and shared command, avoiding distant, cool, passive tone.

6. engage--with your opponent, the moderator, and your entire audience.

7. celebrate your beliefs constantly.

One day, when the dust clears, tell us why you tripped throughout the first debate. For now, put it behind you. And champion your cause and our nation.
+4 # Michael Lee Bugg 2012-10-16 05:52
Fredboy, I called the White House yesterday and asked that he please stop saying, "Now listen!" because it sounds like he is both flustered and pleading! He should also stop wasting time mentioning people he has talked to in particular campaign stops because he does not drop their name anyway. I told him by e-mail to remind people of Bush's policies and results on most issues and point out that Romney's proposals sound like Bush, the sequel. I wanted to say Romney sounds like, 'The Decider, Part Duh!' but Obama cannot come off as anything but presidential!
+4 # BradFromSalem 2012-10-16 08:20

I agree entirely, except I doubt that Obama could avoid using "uh". It is his normal pattern of speech and it is a common trait of intelligent speakers. I really think at this point for Obama to drop what has become for him a natural speech pattern could disrupt his presentation, and likely would lead to a major blunder.
+17 # jorspe 2012-10-15 18:17
Beautiful, Mr Reich, although I agree with sfrider above ... I hope the President is reading.
+7 # reiverpacific 2012-10-15 18:20
As an -shall we say "interested" foreign, tax-paying, somewhat opinionated activist-reside nt, could anybody tell me who actually comprises the audience at these spectacles, especially the ones where the audience is permitted to address the principals?
Presumably they are screened in some way for "security" but for what else?
Do they pay to be seated and how much?
D'you have to be rich or at least fairly upper-middle to even think about attending, or can anybody go?
I've never heard anybody even address this, so just thought I'd ask.
Advice (Who am I --?) bring your known supporter's issues to the fore and look them in the eye.
Remind the people which party was the progenitor of the economic collapse in the first place and MAKE Twit be specific about how he'd deal with it (Like Clinton's great line "We screwed it up so vote for us so we can do it again" or W.T.T. effect).
Remember those who are still out of work and even those who have given up.
Address the obstructionism you have experienced from the Rethugs WITHOUT seeming to whine about it.
There is the added burden of the "Foreheads Villainous Low" racist element to deal with.
It shouldn't be a "performance win-lose" show business event (and what the former League of Women Voters quit over) but that's what the establishment has decided upon.
Burn Twit and stomp on the remains.
+18 # popeye47 2012-10-15 18:26
Takes lessons from from Joe. If you can have the passion of Joe and look in the camera and speak to the people like Joe did. Also don't let him get away with his lies. If you are passive, again then he will run over your a$$.
+19 # lamancha 2012-10-15 18:28
Stop the maudlin, sentimental B.S., speaking about your grandmother for 5 minutes as if that's intended to evoke tears of sympathy - and stay away from similar platitudes about some 10 yr old kid in Omaha who fell off his bike. Speak about what you'll do for the masses -the heartland of America - the 47% followed by the 99%. Remember the remarks of Rosseau, Hegel and Locke - about doing things for "the common good" - that which benefits the majority of Americans - think big, presidential and curtail the platitudes.
+9 # brux 2012-10-15 19:18
I agree with you there, there are way too many BS stories in the middle of these debates that just waste time and do not answer the question.

The other thing about bringing up the family and kissing and all the well wishes, and ULTIMATE SILLINESS OF OBAMA TELL JIM LEHRER THAT HE DID A GREAT JOB ... what phoniness!

I mean I half expect Obama to bring beer for everyone, and Romney to top it by paying for college for all their kids.
+17 # in deo veritas 2012-10-15 19:15
On the issue with the banksters-come out and support Glass-Steagall, which you have consistently resisted doping. That would be the best way to convince the voters thast you are NOT in the pocket of Wall Street. Glass-Steagall gets increasing support every day from local, state, and national officials. It is the only chance we have to stop the plundering by the banmksters and write off their gambling debts. Fail to do this and you may fail to be re-elected.
-12 # tahoevalleylines 2012-10-15 20:21
Readers with strategic thinking genes wonder if the Obama team has knowledge of full panorama of Muhammadanism as a political dynamic, and various subterfuges employed to advance Islam's control of territory? George Grant wrote "The Blood Of The Moon"; Avi Lipkin wrote "The Return To Mecca". Obama's (Bush and both Clintons) errors regarding administration of Jerusalem and Israeli borders indicate lack of depth.

Too late for this debate, maybe Obama advisers can look at a balls out public works project; I.E., "North American Water & Power Alliance" (NAWAPA). Ag water west of the Rockies, and recharging of legacy aquifers is a crucial element with chronic drought scenario. NAWAPA can be seen on the Lyndon LaRouche website, and on the net.

It is doubtful Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will show the sort of backbone or foresight required, to verbalize any imaginative engineering project beyond road & bridge repair...

In our wildest dreams, maybe some staff -of either team- shall look at DEBKAfile and try thinking about how they can prepare some talking points preparing the American people for motor fuel rationing. The water supply upgrades and alternate transport requisites will not be simple with a motor fuel emergency dead ahead.

Get through the debate, then delegate some staff time for water and railway capacity enhancement, gentlemen...
-9 # Rick Levy 2012-10-15 20:41
I agree with Reich on all points except for the matter of illegal immigrants. These people don't belong here and should be sent packing. Further, encouraging or even tolerating their presence is a slap in the face of LEGAL immigrants who wait their turn and follow the laws to enter and stay in the U.S.
+1 # reiverpacific 2012-10-16 19:11
Quoting Rick Levy:
I agree with Reich on all points except for the matter of illegal immigrants. These people don't belong here and should be sent packing. Further, encouraging or even tolerating their presence is a slap in the face of LEGAL immigrants who wait their turn and follow the laws to enter and stay in the U.S.

Myself bein' a "Legal" (European) immigrant (who has no desire to remain here any longer than necessary to accomplish a couple of project goals) having jumped through all the hoops for my "Green Card", I'd suggest that you come down off y'r high horse until you know a bit more, including how many wealthy farmers and corporations depend on cheap labor to maximize their profits (I've seen it first-hand and was part of it before I received my work permit), INCLUDING many who pay lip service supporting immigrant deportation but who use them to to the maximum as long as they can get away with it and still retain some political expediency.
It's never as simple as it sounds in the headlines.
Ultimately, we all share the planet and it's many LANDS, that word which was established by bloody conquest and lines drawn through indigenous, often nomadic, geo-expedient terrains by power-and-resou rce-hungry conquerors. -Try and broaden your perspectives, purty please.
0 # Rick Levy 2012-10-16 21:37
"I'd suggest that you come down off y'r high horse until you know a bit more, including how many wealthy farmers and corporations depend on cheap labor to maximize their profits (I've seen it first-hand and was part of it before I received my work permit)".

You just made my case. Illegals work for almost nothing, often working below minimum wage and under inhumane working conditions, dragging the overall wage scale and job health and safety standards in the process. Why should employers be allowed to get away with this? If illegals were barred from this country, employers who exploited this group would have to replace them would have to replace them with citizens and legal immigrants and raise workers' salaries to a civilized level, at least up to the minimum wage.

If this would cause higher prices for goods that were formerly made under slave wages conditions, well so be it. None of us have the right to live off the exploitation of other human beings.
+7 # Terjem 2012-10-15 21:14
The idea that concentration of wealth will create jobs or good for the poorer by a tricle down process, has proven to be wrong in history.
In the late Mideval times, the only means of wealth production, the soil, had been concentrated on the few noble hands. That ended in the French revolution!!!
+5 # spenel334 2012-10-15 21:18
Great points, Robert Reich, and those adding comments as well. I wish it was legal to send your article into the newspaper with attribution so more people could see it.

+8 # CL38 2012-10-15 21:58
Excellent points for Obama to make with passion and just a hint of indignation and maybe even the humor Joe used!
0 # MindDoc 2012-10-16 15:27
My own advice would be: Mr. President, stop referring to "you and me" as the 1% who can afford paying more fair share. It may be true, but he uses it so often (like Biden and "my friend") that it necessarily associates his identity as being with the 1%, not the 47% or 99% who need to be included in "We the People". We know you make money too (albeit from books rather than plundering the American people and exporting money and jobs offshore). But no need to constantly put yourself in that vile country-club, "let them eat cake" group. Remember, you're still part of "We the People" and need to present as having OUR backs, not the "you and me" 1% crowd he keeps mentioning. It's not only about income, it's about fairness and priorities, and this - along with passion about making America more whole, just, and fair - will do far, far better than referencing the "you and me" who can afford a few more crumbs for the people, but are intent on vacuuming up whatever is left of national and personal wealth, among the middle class - and those aspiring still.

I'm sure Obama is more 'mindful' now, and more coached, but he's going up against the ultimate moving target (no fixed positions or facts), and one being 'handled' with the best Rmoney can buy. Agreed, Obama needs to be himself (core values, part of 'real people', a seeker of a better, fairer America) and he needs to be passionate about reality, and also nail down the many, many Romney lies & positions.

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