A memo to the president re: the next debate

Robert Reich sends his advice to President Obama in anticipation of his second debate with Mitt Romney.

David Goldman/AP
Stand-ins for Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and President Barack Obama, right, run through a rehearsal with moderator Candy Crowley, back to camera, ahead of Tuesday's presidential debate, Monday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

To: POTUS

From: Robert Reich

RE: Upcoming debate

Your passive performance in the last debate was damaging because it reenforced the Republican claim that you’ve been too passive in getting jobs back and in responding to terrorism abroad.

That doesn’t mean you have to “come out swinging” this time. You need to be yourself, and one of your qualities that the public finds reassuring is your steadiness and authenticity, by contrast to Romney’s unsteady flip-flopping and apparent willingness to say and be anything. But you will need to be more energetic and passionate.

And although the “town meeting” style debate in which you’ll be answering audience questions isn’t conducive to sharp give-and-take with Romney, look for every opportunity to nail him. Indignance doesn’t come naturally to you, but you have every reason to be indignant on behalf of the American people. 

Emphasize these five points:

1. Not only is the economy is improving, but there’s no reason to trust Romney’s claim he would improve it more quickly. He’s given no specifics about how he’d pay for his massive tax cut for the wealthy, or what he’d replace ObamaCare with, or how he’d regulate Wall Street if he repeals Dodd-Frank. His record to date has flip-flopped on every major issue. Why should Americans trust his assertions?

2. Our problems require we pull together, but Romney and his party want to pull us apart. Romney has praised Arizona’s draconian anti-immigration law profiling Hispanics, and has called for “voluntary deportation” by making life intolerable for undocumented workers. He is against equal marriage rights. He wants to ban abortions, and his party and running mate want to ban them even in the case of rape or incest. He’s determined to make the rich richer and the rest of us poorer. Romney is beholden to a radical right-wing Republican party that is out of step with most of America.

3. Romney’s “reverse Robin Hood” agenda is inappropriate at a time when the wealthy are taking home a larger share of total income and wealth than they have in a century, and when the middle class is still struggling. He wants to cut taxes on the rich by almost $5 trillion – which inevitably means higher taxes on the rest of us; and over 60 percent of its budget cuts come out of programs for the poor and working middle class. He’s determined to turn Medicare into vouchers whose value won’t keep up with rising healthcare costs, and turn Medicaid over to cash-starved states. His comment about “47 percent” of Americans not paying taxes and taking government handouts was not only wrong (every working person pays payroll taxes, and every consumer pays sales taxes; and the biggest so-called “entitlements” are Social Security and Medicare, which are insurance programs that Americans pay for during their working years). The comment also reveals a callousness and divisiveness that’s the opposite of what we need now. Romney wants to set Wall Street loose again when the Street’s greed got us into the mess we’re still trying to get out of.

4. Romney views America as if it was one huge corporation, but we’re not a corporation; we’re a nation. He says corporations are people; touts his years at Bain as if making companies profitable qualifies him to be president; wants to deregulate corporations and Wall Street; and assumes CEOs and the wealthy are “job creators,” and if we cut their taxes they’ll have more incentive to create jobs. None of this is true. The nation exists to make lives better for all its people – making sure that corporations treat their workers as assets to be developed rather than as costs to be cut. Companies have been slow to create jobs not because of insufficient profits but because of inadequate customers. The vast American middle class are the real job creators, but they don’t have enough money in their pockets because too many companies have broken the basic bargain linking wages to productivity.

5. On foreign policy, Romney wants to rush to judgment, blaming the administration for not acting quickly enough in Libya on scant information. But that rush-to-judgment mentality is exactly what got us into Iraq eight years ago on the pretext of “weapons of mass destruction.” Two days ago we marked the 50th  anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. Had John F. Kennedy rushed to judgment as Romney wants to, humankind would have been obliterated in a nuclear holocaust. 

Be indignant, but measured and steady – as you naturally are. Practice your closing (your last closing was listless) so the nation can see clearly the choice: We’re all in it together, or we’re on our own.

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