If we had the sort of press we deserve, Jim Lehrer would never have outsourced to the candidates themselves the role of debate moderator. That said, Obama dropped the ball. The president had an opportunity to directly ask Romney any number of questions he would have been unable to answer with logic or coherence. Here's a selection:
1) Name three things you would have done differently than George W. Bush had you been president in 2000-2008.
2) Do you understand how the most popular forms of birth control work? Are you aware that the IVF treatments used by members of your own family would be illegal under the personhood amendments that you support?
3) You say you want to give the states as much money as they get now for Medicaid, plus inflation, plus a 1 percent a year increase. Could you identify how that saves any outlays from the federal budget?
4) How much would your proposed increases in defense cost? If you don't want to raise taxes, where would the 999 billion not covered by cutting NPR come from? In your estimation, would this extra money be worth borrowing from China?
5) Do you believe a teenage girl living in poverty, raped by gang members, should be forced to carry the child to term? If not, how would you suggest she pay for an abortion? If she lived in Virginia, would you support her being required to get a forced ultrasound?
6) Do you believe in a strong infrastructure, and if so, who should pay for it? If the government contracts with a private corporation -- say Halliburton -- to build a bridge or supply the military, do you consider the jobs created to be private sector or public sector jobs? Are the employees of defense contractors private or public sector employees? Are military personnel "government workers" and are their jobs less important that those in the private sector?
7) Please identify a manufacturer of "clean" coal and explain what regulations they must obey to "clean" the coal. Are you for or against these regulations? Do you consider the EPA a necessary agency?
8) Do you support increased expenditures of the War on Drugs? Do you think building prisons and hiring prisons guards are a wise use of taxpayer money? How do you propose to reduce these government expenditures without endangering public safety? How do you propose to pay for incarceration of undocumented immigrants who don't "self-deport?"
9) Please explain why the candidate for the most patriotic position in the land shouldn't keep his money in American banks.
10) Assuming a Democratic Senate would resist your "severely conservative" agenda as strongly as a Republican Senate resisted the president's, how would you propose to get around the filibusters you would invariably face as president? Or do you oppose the filibuster, no matter who uses it?
I know the president, by nature, is more professor than pugilist. It's a great way to run a country, but a terrible way to win a debate. He needs to do as Chris Matthews suggested -- watch some cable news and learn how to draw blood.
In fact, here's a suggestion: Let Obama play Romney in the debate prep, and let Bill Clinton play Obama. Learn from the master.
Follow Mark Olmsted on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MarquisMarq