The fundamental reason Obama had a hard time looking tough, passionate, and principled during the presidential debate, is that too often, this was a debate fought on conservative frames: who was more for oil drilling, more for coal, more for nuclear; who's for lower taxes; who's for a bigger military. And no one came out against the bailout.
He's already surrendered his ground on fighting for progressive principles: he's for offshore drilling, he voted for Bush's 2005 energy bill, his campaign's focus has been on lower taxes; he frames his foreign policy around micro-level disputes, not around paradigm-changing Geo-green ideas or even a general principle of toughness. Having said that, there are still so many opportunities to go on offense and control the terms of debate:
1) Please mention Sarah Palin in the next debate. "Senator McCain so clearly lacks the judgment to be president. We cannot risk a national security crisis in the hands of someone as unprepared as Sarah Palin."
2) Don't let the moderator cut you off. If Jim Lehrer can stare you down, Vladimir Putin will eat you for lunch.
3) Use your best lines even if you've already said them in the past. "John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell - but he won't even go to the cave where he lives."
4) It's okay to center your vision on a clean energy future (not alternative energy, which could be anything). This can provide security, a solution to the climate crisis, and lots and lots of jobs.
5) Talk about McCain's "failure after failure after failure."
6) When you talk taxes, remember Bill Clinton's fundamental observation: be specific. Most people think they're in a way higher income bracket than they are. If you're talking about cutting taxes, talk very specifically about the income levels that will receive cuts, not the percentage of people who will receive cuts.
7) Don't be afraid to go after Wall Street. This bailout will create far fewer jobs than, for instance, investing in a green economy.
8) Remember James Carville and Paul Begala's saying: "It's hard for your opponent to say bad things about you when your fist is in his mouth."
9) Keep talking about your veteran's bracelet.
10) Remember how you beat Hillary: by going on offense.
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