How do you interrupt your debate opponent, contradict everything he says, strike a pose of amused disbelief while he rants on about your rotten leadership, and hit him with zingers that the pundits are still applauding the next morning, all without coming off as rude? And, in President Obama's case, how do you do all this while still looking presidential?
That's the challenge for both contenders in Tuesday night's second presidential debate, one that Obama, in particular, is widely acknowledged to have failed to meet in his first contest against GOP challenger Mitt Romney on Oct. 3. This time around, Obama is holding a three-day retreat in Williamsburg, Va., to brush up on his technique. "This isn't a guy who needs to be grilled on facts," an Obama aide told the New York Times. "What he needs to work on is stylistic."
Obama is reported to have admired the way Vice President Joe Biden went on the offensive in his debate against Rep. Paul Ryan. Conservatives do not agree. After the vice presidential debate, right-wing commentators were buzzing about Biden's "rude," "condescending" style. Joe Pounder, research director of the Republican National Committee, even rejected his party's normal disdain for mathematics to pounce on Biden's disrespectful behavior: "Final Count: Biden interrupted 82 times during the entire debate," he tweeted. Some liberals and independents too were turned off by Biden's smirking and laughter during Paul's turn to speak. Of course, that sort of thing goes both ways. After the first presidential debate, Democrats said Romney came off as rude for talking over the moderator and interrupting Obama, yet he is widely acknowledged to have won the contest.