NOTE: this column originally appeared at MSNBC.COM on 10/16/12
As the second debate gets underway between Republican nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, I’ve been thinking a lot about what Obama needs to do coming off his last debate debacle, and a couple of ideas flooded into my aging, 45-year old brain.
First and foremost, one-half of this country’s voters simply will not vote for Obama, no matter what he says or does. I’ve been in politics for over 20 years now, and I’ve never seen such hatred for the man holding the top job in our country. The impeachment of former President Bill Clinton looks like child’s play compared to the hatred people have for Obama. It doesn’t matter if it’s deserved or not; the Obama campaign has to acknowledge this fact between now and November 6th.
Second, who’s left over then? Who are the voters the President must get and where do they live? What we know is many of those voters are women ages 30-50. These are white suburban women, mostly; the traditional soccer moms, that choice part of the electorate all candidates must claim in order to hold elected office.
So now that we know women rule the world (Why did it take me this long to figure this out?) and it’s women that will put one of these two men over that Electoral College goal of 270 electoral votes, what do they want to hear? And that leads me to what Barack Obama must say to them tonight.
Women have long memories, and they remember where they were exactly four years ago. They remember the headlines: CNN/Money’s ”Jobs Lost in 2008: 1.2 million; BBC News; “More US workers lost jobs in 2008 than in any year since Word War II”; the New York Times’ ”159,000 Jobs Lost in September, the Worst Month in Five Years.” Talk about doom and gloom.
That was the picture then. So what are today’s headlines? CNN/Money reports, ”Amazon to Hire 50,000 Seasonal Workers”; the New York Times adds, “Drop in Jobless Figure Gives Jolt to Race for President”; the Washington Post says,”The Numbers: 114,000 Jobs Created, 7.8 Percent Unemployment.” Talk about a turn around.
But there’s a problem with these headlines: they’re not enough. They’re good, they’re positive, and they’re pointing in the right direction. But tonight, President Obama has to have a gut check moment, reach into the very core of his being, and tell these women what he’s going to do for the next four years. We all know how bad the last four years have been. Women know better than men. What we don’t know, what these women don’t know, is precisely what the President is going to do to make them and their families better off in the next month, the next year, and the next four years. Will he commit to rebuilding their children’s aging and crumbling schools? Will he spell out precisely how he’ll make the costs of college tuition more affordable? Will he talk about their privacy, or what happens to them when they’re sitting in their doctor’s office while politicians are deciding how they should live their lives? Will he talk about how he’s going to make sure their taxes don’t go up while he’s president?
That’s the Obama we must see, hear, and feel tonight. He must focus like a laser on these women. It’s what Reagan did; he made them feel good about America. It’s what Clinton did; he reassured them. It’s what Bush Jr.; he made them feel safe in those critical first years after 9/11. And yes, Obama must correct the record—specifically former Governor Romney’s record. The president can walk and chew gum at the same time. I mean, he gave the order to kill Osama bin Laden and made a room of political types laugh at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner all within 24 hours of each other.
We know President Obama has nerves of steel. The question is: can he show compassion and empathy with the women of this country? If he does that, he wins. If not…
So, here we go. It’s you, me and 50 million-plus other Americans tuning in to watch two men lay out their very different visions for America. I’ll watch with an open mind and then, afterwards, write the second part of this column. I’ll also be tweeting under @jimmyspolitics throughout the debate, so watch for my gut checks.