It seems as though we've completely given up on the idea of measuring a debate based on content and instead are much more concerned about the theater of it all. I think that is a very telling indictment of our culture. But it is what it is.
Today the internet is full of advice for President Obama on what he needs to do in the debate. I would suggest that most of that is focused on what would please the particular pundit or partisan who is expressing their opinion. In other words, what most of these folks are suggesting is that the President needs to do/say what THEY want to hear. They've had it up to their eyeballs with Romney's lies and flip-floping. They're mad about that and want some punches thrown.
But there are several problems with this kind of advice.
The real audience for this debate is not the pissed off partisan. Those folks already know who they're going to vote for and one debate is not going to change their minds. So I would suggest that the President won't be taking their advice about what they want to hear.
Secondly, I haven't heard any of these advice-givers acknowledge the one important difference between this debate and the last one - the format. In both the first presidential debate and the only vice-presidential debate, the candidates were speaking to each other and/or the moderator. This one will be a town hall format and the candidates will be speaking directly to voters. That changes the dynamic completely. Much of the advice we're hearing tends to focus on fixing things people think the President did/didn't do last time rather than acknowledging the difference.
Finally, all of the advice misses the one most important thing that President Obama needs to communicate tonight...authenticity. As we saw with Paul Ryan's stunt yesterday, that is his most powerful tool against the Romney/Ryan ticket. He actually knows what he's talking about - and cares. They're too busy faking it.
President Obama has expended a tremendous amount of energy over these last 4 years trying to keep himself from being consumed in the Washington bubble. He does that by reading at least 10 letters from ordinary Americans every night, visiting people in their homes/small businesses, having dinners with supporters and - to the dismay of the DC villagers - avoiding too much backslapping with them. I'd suggest that he does all that in order to keep his heart attuned to what really matters and why he chose to do this job in the first place.
That's the well he will be drawing from tonight.