October 12th, 2012
06:25 PM ET

Letters to the President #1362: 'Delivering on the next debate'

Reporter's Note: The president is probably reading a lot of things this weekend preparing for his next debate. Oddly enough, I think this letter could be the most important of those items…

Dear Mr. President,

You were smart to say good things about Biden’s debate performance, as much as it may have pained you to do so. He energized your base, gave the Republicans something to think about, and in volleyball terms set you up for a spike next week.

Now, of course, the question is: Can you deliver?

As a matter of mathematics, I’d say the odds are in your favor. I’ve talked with you before about “graduation toward the mean;” this idea that everything is on a journey toward its natural, normal state. Applied in this situation, that means Governor Romney, who had an outstanding first debate, is more likely to have an average showing next time; and you, who had a sub par performance, are more likely to have a better run at it this time. Like I said, it’s a matter of mathematics.

As a matter of human behavior, however, I understand why you might be a little twitchy. We’ve all seen a great athlete on a roll; every pass is caught, every putt goes right to the cup, every jump shot swishes through the net. But we’ve also seen the evil twin; the guy who finally misses one shot and then sees his whole game fall apart, seemingly helpless to recover.

How does one avoid sinking into that kind of hole and risking another weak debate? I can’t say I know for sure, but here are a few hints: Get plenty of sleep, exercise a bit, prepare so that you “know” your material…not so that you are merely reciting it, and forget about everything else. Forget about your campaign advisors. Forget about the stakes. Forget about all the donors, supporters, and critics. Think about what you are saying, and listen to what is said. My advice would be the same for Mr. Romney, btw.

To paraphrase the famous acting coach Constantin Stanislavsky, you can never guarantee a great performance, but you can set up favorable circumstances in which one might occur.

Hope your weekend proves restful. Call if you can.


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