Five reasons you shouldn’t miss the presidential debate

Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama

by Corinne Cathcart

1 – It’s been a long summer of criticism from afar.

All summer long, the candidates have flung disparaging comments back and forth from across the country. Romney will say something in Ohio. The president criticizes from Florida. Romney criticizes from North Carolina, and Obama says something in New York. Some would call this a debate in slow motion — but really, it’s worse.

The rebuttals are simplistic, usually offering no true additions to the political conversation. They are largely a reflection of the communications offices and campaign managers of the respective campaigns, who can form strategic political responses because of the time afforded by the long distances.

While many argue that the debate is not an ideal place to get down to the meat of issues — 30 to 60 seconds on a topic is rarely enough time to graze the surface — it does partially end the pattern we’ve witnessed.

When it comes down to the night of the debate, the candidates will actually have to cover real issues face-to-face in much more detail than the summer’s mudslinging allowed for.

2 – Romney is often criticized for lacking his own issues or plans.

On numerous occasions over the summer, Romney has been criticized for running a purely anti-Obama campaign — simply focusing on the Obama administration’s weaknesses such as the poor economy, rather than putting forth new ideas and discussing other pressing issues facing our nation.

In the past few weeks, Romney has certainly tried to change this. He has increased the attention he pays to foreign policy and energy, although still often with an anti-Obama focus. He has said that Obama hasn’t been tough on China or that Obama should have approved the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The upcoming debate is a real chance for Romney to bring up something new, to prove to critics that he has ideas and plans for the country besides getting Obama out of office.

3 – A return to two-sided information flows after the conventions.

The party conventions are always chances for the Democrats and Republicans to own particular nights. Only one party addresses the nation on these nights, flaunting what they can offer. But the debate is a return to the two-sided information flow and both parties, speaking through their candidates, have an opportunity to address voters at the same time. Voters have the chance to compare the two parties side by side.

4 – Obama on the defense.

While there are many aspects of Obama’s current campaign which echo 2008, one thing is very different: Obama is now a candidate on the defense. The Obama of 2008 was a prospective candidate, running on his ideas and plans for the future with only a small political record for people to judge him on. Now, 2012-Obama is a retrospective candidate, who has to look back and defend his past four years in office.

The debate is an arena in which this new Obama will be put to the test. Four years ago, Obama didn’t have trouble portraying himself as a Washington-outsider in his debates, criticizing the handling of politics. Now, Obama is the epitome of a Washington-insider and the debate will test his ability to defend criticisms of his administration on the fly.

5 – Perhaps a more aggressive Romney.

In recent weeks, especially as polls have shown a widening lead for Obama in battleground states, prominent GOP politicians and pundits have called Romney soft, demanding that he show more aggression in his attacks on Obama.

The debate, with its opportunities for face-to-face criticism and rebuttals, is a space in which Romney can potentially show a more aggressive side. It will be interesting to see if Romney responds to these demands by the members of his party. Will he appease some of the loudest voices in his base or maintains his status quo?


photo of President Barack Obama by Peter Souza, photo of Mitt Romney by Gage Skidmore