I just had on MSNBC (what...you were expecting Fox News?) with my preferred method of the sound off as I started writing this, and I saw Michelle Obama yammering about something over the chyron, "Great Expectations." Seriously, MSNBC? At least when it comes to President Obama and debates, I think the hour of the great expectations is long passed. The truth is that his 2008 debate performance was pretty mediocre, too, but his opponent John "That one!" McCain was equally lost. What's more, the Atlantic's Molly Ball, in a much-discussed piece, makes the argument that Obama's been "off his game" (assuming he once had one) for weeks now. Who knows why that is? Maybe the pressure....of living with his mother-in-law...finally got to him after four years.
So what should Obama do tonight? The worst thing is to raise "great expectations" that he's going to come out a completely different man -- because that's just not going to happen. He does need to a better job explaining, in his own plodding way, where the country's been the last 12 years and what could go wrong if America's low-information voters pick the call-in winner of "Debating With The Stars."
He should also take a page from the book of...ahem..Ronald Reagan. In 1984, a befuddled Gipper looked older than his 73 years in his first debate with Walter Mondale, and he was beaten so badly it nearly unraveled his carefully-crafted "Morning in America" strategy. In the second debate, he famously joked that "I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience." The gambit worked -- even though the truth was that Reagan's overall performance wasn't that great in the second debate, merely good enough.