5 things for Romney to accomplish in the second debate

1. The warm-up to the first debate followed the time-honored political ritual of managing expectations.  Each camp sent forth representatives to assure us that the other guy was a formidable debater, while their own candidate was a plucky underdog.  That???s over now.  After a historic victory in the first debate, Romney goes into this second bout as a defending champion.  And it doesn???t do Obama any good to portray himself as a palooka looking to land a couple of punches on the champ, because that attitude would only serve to darken the spirits of his already depressed base.

The Obama camp seems to understand that, because the media narrative over the weekend has been reminiscent of the training montage from Rocky IV, with Obama dragging plows through the Russian snow and doing thousands of sit-ups, while Mitt Drago risks being undone by his overconfidence.  (Well, actually, Obama???s been holed up at a golf resort, but reportedly his handlers didn???t let him bring his golf clubs.  That???s the equivalent of jogging in Siberia for him.)

Accordingly, Romney must perform up to expectations.  The media desperately wants to write that Obama comeback story.  Romney should deny them the opportunity, by aggressively pursuing Obama???s weaknesses.  This is not a moment to play it safe, and risk losing the momentum Romney has built.  Obama has sought to escape from beneath the crushing burden of his record in office by portraying Romney as if he were the incumbent.  It would be a mistake for Romney to buy into that strategy, and settle for preserving a narrow lead in the polls.  Challengers can only win by convincing the voters to fire the incumbent.  There???s no way to do that by playing defense.

2. Romney should take the opportunity to burn down a few of Obama???s straw men.  There are some patently false attack lines Obama has been heavily reliant upon, including the false claim that Romney wants to raise middle-class taxes so he can give rich people a $5 trillion tax cut; the persistent misrepresentation of a disputed study of two-year-old proposals from Paul Ryan, as if it were a critique of the Romney-Ryan ticket???s agenda; the notion that only Republican ???obstructionism??? has prevented Obama from accomplishing more; and the claim that Romney and Ryan want to ???voucherize??? Medicare.  There is no reason for any of this nonsense to survive the second debate.

3. Romney should wholeheartedly, energetically, passionately embrace the defense of capitalism.  That most certainly includes the practical and moral superiority of private investment over Obama???s crony socialist quagmire.  ???Defense??? does not mean apology, any more than a robust defense of America???s free-speech ideals called for apologies to the ???Innocence of Muslims??? protesters by the Obama Administration.

Romney should make Americans comfortable with the concept of the Laffer Curve, and emphasize the unrealism of static analysis: tax increases never bring in the revenue promised, while tax cuts never ???cost??? the government as much as it claims they will.  Romney???s personal success in business is nothing to be ashamed of ??? on the contrary, it has created jobs, helped the recipients of his investments to explore productive opportunities, and furnished the wealth Romney needed to make enormous donations to charity.  The American Way has need of champions, not apologists.

It is often said that one of Romney???s big problems is a relative inability to appear empathetic.  Well, America has stumbled through four years of empathetic incompetence.  And Obama???s actual policies, in contrast to his rhetoric and media image, have no trace of ???empathy??? about them ??? he???s all about command, control, mandates, and punishment.  Nothing about a voter???s personal situation will matter in the slightest to the ObamaCare commissars ??? it???s one size fits all, or more to the point, one size fits nobody.  Nothing is more truly ???empathetic??? from a national leader than proper respect for the dignity, judgment, and liberty of individual citizens.

4. There has been a lot of buzz from Obama???s camp that he plans to hit Romney hard over his years with Bain Capital during this debate.  If that???s true, it???s a horrendous miscalculation on Obama???s part, and Romney should make him pay dearly for it.  Mitt Romney???s business decisions from 15 years ago are not among the top issues facing the American electorate in 2012.  (Much less business decisions made by Bain Capital after Romney left the company.)

You know what else is not a pressing issue for Americans dealing with Barack Obama???s years of high unemployment, rising gas prices, regulatory over-reach, stagnant economic growth, and perpetual threats of job-killing tax increases?  Corporate welfare for Big Bird.  Romney should do the one thing Obama desperately wants to avoid: focus on the real issues.

Highlight the childish silliness of Obama???s campaign distractions.  The Obama team really hates talking about anything that has happened since 2009.  It???s all about George Bush, and occasionally George Romney.

Obama???s stroll down Sesame Street is the perfect distillation of his absurdity.  Mitt Romney talked about ending subsidies to PBS; Big Bird has a show on PBS; people love Big Bird; so BOOM!  An Obama campaign narrative is instantly distilled, taken to the delirious streams of his spokeswoman assuring reporters aboard Air Force One, ???there???s only one candidate in this race who is going to continue to fight for Big Bird and Elmo, and he is riding on this plane.???

Never has an incumbent President worked so hard to prove himself fundamentally unserious about the great issues facing a nation in peril.  Romney is unfairly criticized for lacking specifics in his plans, but he should point out that Obama has none, beyond assurances that cranking up taxes on people who make over $200,000 a year will fix everything.  When Obama says he didn???t do anything wrong over the past four years (aside from a little self-serving ???criticism??? that he should have been a better ???storyteller???) and hires Morgan Freeman to narrate ads about the importance of staying the course, he???s producing a Romney campaign ad.

Obama???s attempts to portray himself as a bystander to history are laughable.  Romney should remind voters that this President is very aggressive about issuing executive orders, and bending the law to the breaking point, when it???s something he really cares about.

There really aren???t many Americans who want four more years of Obama bankruptcy and stasis.  That???s why the President???s campaign is encountering chronic ???enthusiasm??? problems.  The only thing keeping Obama afloat is the fear among some in the electorate that there are no viable alternatives to the New Normal.  Romney???s goal is to inspire them to believe otherwise, and expect more from the White House.

5. The Obama team is desperately trying to run out the clock on the Benghazi debacle.  The latest defense is their last resort: insisting that all criticism of Obama???s foreign policy is an illegitimate attempt to ???politicize??? the issue.

That???s not only laughably incongruent with the Democrat Party???s conduct during the Bush years, it???s downright insulting.  We are gathering to select the Commander-in-Chief for four dangerous years.  There is no better time to ask hard questions about Obama???s leadership and honesty.  There is no better time to take stock of the Middle East after the ???Arab Spring,??? and compare reality on the ground to the President???s rhetoric.  The notion that we should all shut up and wait for various turtle-speed investigations to wrap up and issue reports, sometime in 2013, is offensive.

And it shouldn???t take that long to get the answers we need, anyway.  Isn???t Obama issuing a terrible indictment of his own Administration by saying that it needs a few months to get its story straight, when everyone involved is connected electronically, and many of them dine at the same Washington restaurants?

There???s a recurring pattern in this Administration, where high-ranking officials refuse to take responsibility for the actions of their massive departments, and political considerations prevent Obama from holding them accountable.  Attorney General Eric Holder on Fast and Furious, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Benghazi??? it???s the same song, played with a few different notes.  It???s a dangerous song, and we don???t need it on the jukebox for another four years.

So let Mitt Romney demand answers on Benghazi, and explain how the questions are relevant to an assessment of Barack Obama???s Middle East policy.  And no, ???I killed bin Laden??? is not an acceptable answer.