10/13/2012 09:01 am ET Updated Dec 13, 2012

Obama's Biggest Challenge: Optics

Sometimes optics and appearance triumph over substance. Except in a national election, when the state of the economy and the level of joblessness can color the optics with the grey of uncertainty.

Media pundits continue to concentrate on who "won" or "lost" the Biden-Ryan debate. Was Vice President Biden's "performance" sufficient to overcome the failures of President Obama in his debate with Governor Romney?

On the level of "optics," I doubt it. On the level of substance, it seemed more like a "tie."

The Biden-Ryan post-debate polls do not yet, as of this post, conclusively reflect whether the position of the President Obama in the polls prior to his first debate with Governor Romney has been significantly recovered.

But we detect something potentially more ominous for the president's reelection: he and Vice President Biden appear to have lost the optics with the nation's television audience.

Romney and Ryan look like what Don Draper and his associates at Mad Men could have successfully packaged as this year's new and more "engaging" product. It seems to be having some partial success in presenting Obama and Biden as last year's "out of date" product.

Not that it is so. Doesn't have to be. It's enough if, in the eyes of a substantial number of voters, it looks like it may be so.

An indication of this was President's Obama's reference to Mitt Romney's performance during their debate as "salesmanship," not leadership. Hello! With the economy, joblessness and our national debt's increasing percentage of our GDP, that's exactly what effective leadership requires: salesmanship. The president has to convince ("sell") the electorate that they should still retain confidence in his presidential leadership.

If the president and his advisers are still focusing on the issue of "politeness" vs. less politeness for the next debate, then the Romney-Ryan optics will prevail.

In an earlier post after the president's debate performance, I said it reminded me of the opening rounds of the 1974 Ali Foreman heavyweight boxing fight. I suggested that Obama may not have the option of applying Ali's "rope a dope" strategy, during the initial or subsequent "rounds" of the debate to "knock out" Romney and be re-elected.

The reasons for this are now clearer. It may be simply out of character for President Obama to adopt and apply the preferable game -- the face of the champion -- to let Romney know that when he steps in to the election ring with him, Romney will get a whoopin'!

A game face is just that. President Obama is the champion. He has to let Romney, the challenger, know, in no uncertain terms that he is prepared, by any lawful means necessary, to take names and kick ass, to assure his re-election to complete the unfinished work of his first term as president.

For Democrats who support the president but who were disappointed with his debate performance, I can offer not better advice than the recent column by Charles Blow in the the New York Times:

Only the laziest political commentators could look at the current state of play and see doom for Obama. In fact, the panic among professional liberal pundits is a bit like screaming fire in a theater showing a Michael Moore documentary. Cut it out and grow up!

At the end of the day, it's still about the economy. For Obama's reelection team to overcome the optics and use the recent 7.8% unemployment stat as a positive, they are going to have to double down on their ground game.

Recent state and federal court decisions restraining efforts at voter suppression in key states are encouraging. This should galvanize the get out the vote efforts among key components of President Obama's voter base.

Unlike the ticket in 2008, the Romney-Ryan Campaign appears to have greater knowledge of how to creatively exploit the maximum competitive use of social networking and companion communication technologies. Additionally, they seem to be elevating their campaign attack theme: Why did President Obama devote his first two years to seeking Obamacare instead of addressing the nations growing unemployment and rising national debt at the time?

This, together with the Mad Men optics of Romney, a successful businessman, and Ryan, the Middle America Chairman of the House Budget Committee, may provide a formidable attractive alternative to an electorate hungry for presidential leadership; that, just maybe, could make a difference in their day-to-day lives.

The debates and the media commentary thereafter suggest that President Obama may have a renewed opportunity to build a firewall of protection as he mounts a national political counter attack based on the three most vulnerable parts of the Romney-Ryan optics-assault against his re-election: their proposed 20% across the board tax deduction, (principally benefiting upper income households), abortion, and their efforts to "privatize" social security.

At the end of the day, it now seems abundantly clear: How President Obama addresses these three key issues going forward well determine whether or not he overcomes the positive optics of Romney and still remain the undefeated champ.