Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

President Obama and the War on Debates

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President Obama must be aggressive, President Obama must be calm, President Obama must be sympathetic, President Obama must be….

At the end of the day, MUST President Obama be anything more than who he really is? Are the American people voting for a debate role, or for a candidate himself. With the countdown to the second Presidential debate approaching the 24 hour mark, how are expectations of this town hall debate different than those from the Denver debate?

Town hall debates are orchestrated to put the Presidential candidates on a level playing field where real, undecided American voters can ask the questions that mean the most to them. This setting encourages spontaneity among candidate response, and preparedness of details and specifics  rather than themes and grand ideals. In a Washington Post Article about town hall debates of the past, Debate coach Brett O’Donnell offered the following comment : “This is the one debate that belongs to the people.”

That being said, I return to my original question: What expectations does  the media the American Public have for each of these candidates? With the economy arguably the most contested platform of this election, American voters want to know how each candidate will increase their individual economic well being.

President H. W. Bush’s town hall debate performance of 1992 remains a cornerstone in debate mockery, however there is one key lesson to be learned:

The American voter expects the common man to do the uncommon. They want the President to be just like them, to understand their concerns and to empathize with their struggles. President Bush was asked how the poor economy affects him, and his answer was less than satisfactory for two reasons. First of all, he didn’t directly answer the voter’s question. Secondly, he distanced himself from the deep concern of many Americans. Conversely, Bill Clinton walked towards the crowd and introduced an element of sincere empathy.

So in just over 24 hours the American people will be assessing the candidates not on expectations set by the media, or political pundits  but on expectations they have of the ultimate office of the land; the same expectations they have had in recent history. They expect a President to be sincere, empathetic and diligent. So I argue President Obama MUST not be anything other than his true self if he wishes to ‘win’ this debate. Putting on a facade- overly aggressive, seemingly calm- of any kind that is untrue to his real character will be seen as insincere.


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