Dear Mr. President: Unsolicited Advice on the Eve of the Second Presidential Debate

Dear Mr. President,

We all know that the stakes are high for the upcoming debate, so I'm writing today with some advice that I hope will be helpful.

First of all, it is critical that you aggressively debunk the egregiously misleading and untruthful messaging the Romney campaign keeps putting out there. For example, remind us that you are running on a strong record that includes ending the war in Iraq, saving the auto industry, increasing private-sector jobs and (against all odds!) accomplishing health-care reform that gives not only hope but insurance to Americans with pre-existing conditions -- not to mention our kids, who can stay on our policies until they're 26.

But don't be too aggressive. If you come out swinging too hard, the pundits will call you rude and disrespectful and make a big deal about how you're trying too hard. So you need to nail him without hammering him.

Second of all, we need specifics. Give us the information we need to be confident that the last four years' good work of pulling the economy out of the ditch that George W. Bush drove it into will continue as you focus on jobs, education and energy. Remind us in no uncertain terms that the failed policies of the past are not a recipe for success in the future. Tell us how the Affordable Care Act has positively affected the lives of average Americans, and make sure we hear about the progress made in restoring the credibility of U.S. foreign policy after eight years of cowboy diplomacy.

But don't go into too much detail. The last thing we need is for you to come across as "professorial" or "wonky." That's deadly in the focus groups, and we don't need all those undecided voters with the clickers dozing off while you have the floor.

Thirdly, there's the "style" thing. Everyone knows you're a great orator, but if you get too brilliant, they'll say you're all style and no substance. So try to bring it down a notch, but not too far down. You know as well as I do that they're just waiting to jump on you for not being "fully present" -- and for heaven's sake try not to let the camera catch you looking down at the podium or that'll be the only clip we see for the next week on the 24-hour news cycle. We need you to look pleasant, relaxed and present -- and by all means let's see you smile. But don't smile too much or Britt Hume will be all over you.

Finally, relax, only not too much. After all, there's a lot riding on you getting re-elected. As Paul Ryan said in the vice-presidential debate last week, the real question at hand is what kind of country we're going to be. If Romney and Ryan have their way, we'll be a country where the rich get richer while the middle-class tax burden increases; where women lose their right to choose, and same-sex couples continue to have their marriages marginalized by the federal government; where Planned Parenthood is defunded, Medicare is voucharized and Social Security is privatized -- not to mention the prospect of continued ground troops in Afghanistan and our foreign policy in the hands of a commander-in-chief who can't even visit England without offending somebody.

So go out there and make us proud, Mr. President (only not too proud, because the last thing we need is to come across as "cocky"!).

Best wishes, and fingers crossed,
Susan Russell