The first presidential debate was a major disappointment, to say the least. As an Obama supporter, I was dismayed by his lackluster performance and inability to connect with the American people, something he is normally an expert at. The reasons for it could be many -- he was weary from the campaign, he was resentful about being challenged, he was being professorial again, he considered it beneath himself to respond to Romney's blatant lies -- but whatever the causes of his failure, one thing is pretty clear: if he wants to take back control of the dialogue, he is going to have to revert to the most basic principle of all.
We can argue forever about whether Romney's statements during the debate were factual, whether he intends to close tax loopholes for the rich or he doesn't, whether his health care plan for Massachusetts is any different from Obamacare, whether "trickle down economics" is better or worse than "trickle down government", but what really matters is that unlike President Obama, Romney kept his message uncomplicated and precise. In that way, he was emulating George W. Bush, who elevated simplicity to an art form, and, more importantly, into a winning formula for a political race.
What you need to remember about Bush is that whether you agreed with him or not, you always knew where he stood on things. His philosophy may have been simple to the point of naivete (or perhaps stupidity but I am not discussing that here), but even so it was coherent, consistent, and clear. As they say, the devil you know is a lot better than the devil you don't and at least Bush identified the devil he was clearly enough for everyone to decide whether they wanted him as their leader or not.
Obama, for good or bad, needs to do the same. His vision of government is not so hard to distill down to simple terms, as long as he avoids letting the feckless Republicans bait him into pointless debates about socialism and Big Brother. Other than the fact that Romney played fast and loose with the facts during the debate, he also flip-flopped on several issues including tax subsidies for oil companies, Wall Street regulations, and health care, which tells me that his primary interest is in living in a big white house rather than in actually governing. Obama could have and should have called him out on his spineless proclamations and then told the American people how the Democrats want a government that will serve the interests of all citizens while the Republicans want a government that will serve only the rich. Yes, the president did say a few things to hint at this but that's my point -- hinting isn't enough.
He needs to be bold and blunt, burn his opponent to the ground, and then tell the nation that his government will take care of the middle class, force the rich to play by the same rules as everyone else, and help those who cannot help themselves. It is a simple and graceful vision of a benevolent and civilized government that refuses to support elitism, oligarchy, and Darwinian Capitalism. Period. End of debate. Good night, everyone, and God Bless the United States of America.
In the end, it is up to the people to decide what type of government they want, but if Obama drives a clearly visible stake into the ground, at least they will know exactly where he stands and on what basis to make a choice between the Republican poser who is playing to the crowds and a solid president who truly cares for his fellow citizens and is willing to fight for them against even the most powerful of special interests.
If there is one thing that Bush did right, it was that he said what was on his mind and he said it in the least amount of words. It may not be the most sophisticated philosophy, but it is a very powerful one, and if Obama wants a second term, he really should follow it.
SANJAY SANGHOEE has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein as well as at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is the author of two novels, including "Merger" which Chicago Tribune called "Timely, Gripping, and Original". Please visit www.sanghoee.com for details.
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