Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

How President Obama can win the first debate

By Hilary Rosen, Special to CNN
September 30, 2012 -- Updated 0116 GMT (0916 HKT)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, order food at a Wendy's restuarant in Richmond Heights, Ohio, on Tuesday.
HIDE CAPTION
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
From the campaign trail
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
95
96
97
98
99
100
101
102
103
104
105
106
107
108
109
110
111
112
113
114
115
116
117
118
119
120
121
122
123
124
125
126
127
128
129
130
131
132
133
134
135
136
137
138
139
140
141
142
143
144
145
146
147
148
149
150
151
152
153
154
155
156
157
158
159
160
161
162
163
164
165
166
167
168
169
170
171
172
173
174
175
176
177
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hilary Rosen: It seems everyone else is getting credit for Obama being in the lead
  • Rosen: In fact, Obama's strategy is to show election as a choice between two directions
  • She says in the debate, Obama should frame every answer as a choice, not a defense
  • Rosen: Romney will try to annoy Obama, the president should stay nice

Editor's note: Hilary Rosen, a CNN contributor, is a Democratic political strategist and former chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America.

(CNN) -- Have you noticed lately that everyone else is getting credit for the president being in the lead except President Obama?

It was the cohesive Democratic message at the convention. It was President Clinton bringing it home. It was GOP challenger Mitt Romney being tone deaf about 47% of the American people. In short, according to the pundits, it has been everything but the president himself that's responsible for the momentum that his re-election has now.

In fact, it's been the fundamental strategy of the president and his campaign that has allowed these other issues to resonate so loudly with the American people. When the president successfully shifted this election as a choice between two leaders and two directions rather than a referendum on him and the state of the economy, everything else fell into a complementary narrative.

Hilary Rosen
Hilary Rosen

Yes, there was a good story to tell about the accomplishments of the last four years, but America needed to see the bigger picture.

So now when we learn Romney's tax rate hovers at 14%, or when he picks Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who wanted to kill Medicare as we know it, as his running mate, or when he can't decide if his Massachusetts health care plan is an example of his compassion or a noose around Obamacare, he falls into the trap of comparison every time. He may not have wanted those things to define his candidacy, but Obama is successfully making America realize that if we reject him, we would be choosing Romney.

Opinion: Fox's laughable case for Romney

So that is my first piece of advice for Obama in the first debate. Frame virtually every answer as a choice, not a defense. Romney is smart and a skilled debater, and he will try to stay vague and put the president on the defensive early. Obama must resist the temptation to lash back only with a spirited defense. Every issue presents a choice for the American people. And on an issue-by-issue basis, the people are mostly with the president.

My second piece of advice is for the president to share his best self as emblematic of what is best in America. Romney says that he only wants everyone to focus on jobs. But life isn't that simple or binary.

If moms are worried about paying for their reproductive health care or whether their rights are respected, it is hard to concentrate only on the economy. If immigrants are worried about being discriminated against or their families deported, it adds to the stress of their economic life. If gays and lesbians can't have their families recognized, it makes their search for meaningful work more complicated as they cobble benefits together. If college students are worrying about the stress of their student loans rather than studying as hard as they can, their chances of pulling themselves up are more limited.

In short, America succeeds when all of its people are valued, and we are all pulling in the same direction rather than refighting old fights or letting social issues divide us. That is not the world that Romney inhabits, but it is the reality for most Americans. Don't be afraid to talk about it.

Romney has everything at stake in this first debate. His campaign team and surrogates can't stop talking about it, in fact. The pressure will be great on him to perform. Therefore he is certain to say things that annoy the president.

Opinion: Why debates don't always make a difference

So my final piece of advice is most simple: Stay nice. No "you're likable enough" comments; no jokes about dogs on top of the car; no snarking about how rich Romney is; no patronizing lecturing when he has his facts wrong. Just stay nice.

One of the greatest gifts America has is a president who is kind and warm with a big smile and compassionate heart. That is the president who will win the first debate.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Hilary Rosen.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT)
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 2124 GMT (0524 HKT)
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2350 GMT (0750 HKT)
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT