Presidential debates must be kept in proper context

There has been no shortage of advice directed at President Barack Obama in recent weeks in the wake of his – to be kind – lackluster performance in the first of his three presidential debates against newly energized Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Be aggressive. Challenge the record of your opponent. Defend your own. And, perhaps most important of all, act like you really are interested in keeping your job for the next four years.

And that’s the short version.

So we will spare the president our own two-cents’ worth as he prepares for Tuesday night’s much-anticipated second debate, a town-hall-style affair set for 9-10:30 p.m. on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Instead, we would like to dispense some advice and context to the millions of American voters who are expected to tune into this debate – an estimated 67 million watched the first one – as well as the final one Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

We’re electing a president, not the captain of a debate team. Choosing the next president of the United States based solely on who “wins” the debates would be just as misguided as those who voted for Obama in 2008 solely because he could deliver a nice speech.

Instead, voters should approach electing a president the same way they would if they were hiring someone to run their company or organization:

Qualifications/experience: What has this person accomplished in life – in the private and public sectors – that makes him qualified to be the leader of the most powerful country in the free world? What strengths, in particular, would be beneficial for the next occupant of the Oval Office? What weaknesses would not?

Leadership: Does this person possess the necessary leadership and communication skills not only to preside over the sprawling executive branch, but also to work in concert with the legislative and judicial branches of government? Would he be guided by a strong sense of character in his many appointments? And can we trust him to represent our country respectfully in its dealings with foreign leaders, be they friends or foes?

Issues: On a more personal level, does the candidate share your positions and values on the important issues of the day? Would he champion causes that are important to you and your family? Or would he work against them?

Governing: Is the candidate driven by ideology or the desire to find solutions? Can he point to specific examples where he brought disparate groups to the table and forged a compromise that most could agree was preferable to the status quo?

In a political environment dominated by negative advertising, dark money, 24/7 analyses and polls, polls, polls, it is more important than ever for voters to put all that noise aside and focus on the key question of the campaign: Who is most qualified and best suited to lead this nation for the next four years?

That’s not to say presidential debates aren’t important or worth watching. They are. And we certainly will count ourselves among the millions that tune in Tuesday night.

Just keep them in the proper context: Voting for the president just because he bounces back from his poor performance or for Romney because he holds his own shouldn’t determine who will become the next president of the United States.

There’s much too much at stake for that.