How to destroy your debate opponent

In the wake of President Obama’s inexplicably and inexcusably feckless debate performance against Mitt Romney last week, I’ve been jonesing for footage of warrior politicians able to make the Democratic case with style, with substance, with spines of steel, and with devastating effect. I haven’t been disappointed; in addition to my go-to clips from the always-brilliant West Wing, this political season has offered up some fierce and feisty real-life orators that Obama would do well to learn from. Are you taking notes, Mr. President?

This is how you enter a debate, find your mojo, and take early command of the field:

This is how you show up your opponent’s magic hand-waving and lack of substance — and how you make an eloquent argument for nuance and detail without getting lost in the weeds of nuance and detail:

This is how you do get into the weeds — but with clarity and simplicity, with an unwavering focus on underlying principles and values, and with a constant eye on the big picture and what’s at stake:

And this is how you expose, cheerfully, your opponent’s shapeshifting:

Offering inspiration from overseas, this is how Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard stands up for women and magnificently exposes misogyny and hypocrisy:

And this is how you stand up for women right here at home:

And finally, this is how you counter your opponent’s malarkey, make a forceful case for your core arguments, and fight for what you believe in with all your heart:

Mr. President, you’ve asked for passion and conviction from your supporters. You’ve asked us to believe in ourselves, to believe in the power of our concerted action, to believe in an American vision of fairness and compassion and community. But we need to believe in you as well. We need to believe that you’ll articulate and fight for that American vision with all the heart and fire and fearlessness with which you ask us to fight for it. You signed up to be the champion of our cause. We need to see you champion it.

The next debate’s coming up soon, Mr. President. Your move.


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