The first presidential debate scheduled for the University of Mississippi tonight is being held hostage be John McCain's deep concern for the economy, but plans remain in place for the showdown, which would give Americans the first opportunity for a side-by-side comparison of the two White House hopefuls. A clear win by either side will change the dynamics of the last five weeks of the campaign. Here are ten things each man can do to win.
Tips for Obama
1. Frame the debate around a new version of the old question: "Is the country better off now than it was eight years ago?"
2. Be the smartest guy in the room, but don't act like the smartest guy in the room.
3. Wear a lei to remind viewers that you're an American.
4. Never back away from the fact that Iraq was a bad idea for the United States.
5. Promise government jobs to the five Wall Street refugees who don't already work for Uncle Sam.
6. Avoid all references to lipsticks, pigs, pitbulls and Palins.
7. Reinforce the Messianic theme by reminding McCain that Jesus was a community organizer.
8. Be clear about the future of Jerusalem—even though no one else is.
9. Have a little fun with McCain, but stop “honoring his service” to the country; let the old soldier make his own old-soldier argument.
10. Smile—it’s one of your biggest assets.
Tips for McCain
1. Show up.
2. Avoid any senior moments. Don't forget any names or confuse Spain with Latin America.
3. Try to find some happy medium between seeming bored and seeming angry.
4. Don't mention Bush, and pray that the Bush Doctrine does not come up.
5. Have an answer for when the Keating Five scandal comes up in relation to the mortgage meltdown.
6. Remind people that Obama was six when you began your stay at the Hanoi Hilton.
7. Try to limit your “My Friends” references to 10 per answer.
8. Come up with a coherent explanation why the economy is less important than the war[s], and therefore why you represent a lesser risk than Obama.
9. At 5-foot-7, don't stand too close of Obama. "Shortest president in 120 years," is not a slogan you want to go viral.
10. Try not to sing.
Terence Samuel is deputy editor of The Root.