How Obama Can Defy Debate Critics and Shift Momentum
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
In my latest column at The Breakthrough, I discuss what Obama can do in tonight's second Presidential debate to reverse momentum, and it starts with defying critics who are calling on Obama to be more confrontational. Here's the start to the column:
As President Obama prepares for tomorrow’s night Presidential debate, he faces the most important public appearance of his political career. Obama’s poor performance in the first debate, combined with Romney’s successful appeal, has contributed to a tightening of the national and battleground polls, and a sizable enthusiasm differential that favors Republicans. In the second debate, delivering at least a draw might help Obama stem the momentum gap with Romney, and the erosion of support among likely women voters.
To do so, many commentators have argued that the President has to be more confrontational, going on the attack against Romney, calling him out on what they perceive to be the major “lies” of his campaign. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in the moments after the first debate went so far as to argue that the President needs to watch more of his program and network: "We have our knives out…We go after the people and the facts. What was he doing tonight? He went in there disarmed."
Yet a lack of confrontation is not what has hurt Obama. To the contrary, it is the Obama campaign’s one-dimensional negativity that has helped Romney close the gap in the polls and that has elevated the success of his first debate performance. In the second debate tuesday night, defying the expectations of pundits and his base, Obama can reverse momentum by returning to the style and narratives that not so long ago made him a transformational political leader.
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