Analysis of Upcoming Debates

James Fallow's cover article for The Atlantic does what he did four years ago.   He analyzes the upcoming presidential debates.  (The dates are already on my calendar and are on October 3, October 16 and October 22nd.  The VP debate is on October 11th).  

His report, titled Slugfest is worth reading in full (also for the laugh out loud moments he reminds us of from previous debates).  

His main point:

One more factor is working against Obama in the debates. When the economy is bad and an incumbent is beset, the challenger’s task is simplified. He doesn’t need to belabor the case against the incumbent. Reality has already done that; everyone knows what’s wrong with the president they have now. All the challenger has to do is say: “Look me over. I’ll be okay in this job. You can feel comfortable with me.” This is what Ronald Reagan did in 1980, and Bill Clinton in 1992. Meanwhile, the incumbent has to work twice as hard, in order to make two arguments at once. He must prove something about himself: that, while battered, he’s still energetic, visionary, and up to the job. He must also prove something about his opponent: that he is bad for the country, unready, and overall worse.
And he must do all this without seeming defensive or tense; while appearing easily in command to those who see images without hearing words; and, in Obama’s uniquely straitjacketed case, while avoiding the slightest hint of being an “angry black man.”
Regarding Romney:
His strengths, again, are faultless preparation, crisp and precise expression, a readiness both to attack and to defend, and an ability to stay purely on message. His weaknesses are thin factual knowledge on many policy issues, a preference to talk in generalities—and a palpable awkwardness when caught unprepared and forced to improvise.
On Romney's biggest weakness: 
 “He gets prickled when he sees debates moving away from what he is prepared for,” Steve Bogden said. “He feels a need to be in character; and without planning, he doesn’t know what his character would say.” A man who worked closely with Romney in his years as governor told me, “He has strong core family values, and religious values. But he doesn’t really have core policy values. If you’re busy trying to remember what to say, it is harder to come across convincingly.”
And about President Obama, Fellows writes,
And what of the president? His advantages are obvious. He is the president; he has been on this stage before; there is almost no question or criticism he has not heard and handled in the past four years. Moreover, the consistent evidence about Romney’s strengths and weaknesses simplifies Obama’s strategy for attack. “It is very important to unbalance Romney,” as Robert Reich put it. “When you have someone who is that scripted and wooden, you have to push him into spontaneity”—with a factual-knowledge point, a new sort of criticism, or a policy choice that somehow Romney has not yet thought through. 
Concluding: 
The main “known” of these debates is that they will probably matter. One major unknown is whether they will matter mainly because of a positive revelation, like Mitt Romney’s demonstrating, as Ronald Reagan did against Jimmy Carter, that he is a comfortable figure to whom people unhappy with Barack Obama can turn. Or because of a negative one, like Richard Nixon’s sweaty discomfort in 1960, Gerald Ford’s misstatement about Poland’s freedom in 1976, or Dan Quayle’s comparing himself to John F. Kennedy in 1988.   
Each candidate has strong incentives to “go negative.” The fundamental logic of Mitt Romney’s campaign is that the Obama administration has placed America on the wrong track. Probably in every debate, he will say: “The president said he would fix the economy; he didn’t; he has to go.” Barack Obama has no choice but to argue that, as bad as things might be now, under Romney and a Tea Party–powered Republican government they would be much worse.
In my view, Obama should compare the US economy to the rest of the world's (particularly Europe's), and not to try to compare to George W Bush or to what might happen.   He should point out that the policies Romney is proposing were tried - in Great Britain, and those conservatives are not fxcking nuts as ours are!