Mumsy always proclaimed: “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.”

As a parent and based upon my own childhood experiences, I know that youngsters with strong points of view often draw negative responses not so much for what they are espousing, but for the obnoxious manner in which they are offering their opinions. The same even applies for those humbly or not-so-humbly applying to become the leader of the free world.

Does this suggest that philosophy doesn’t matter? Is command of details and facts still necessary for leadership? Does this mean that gaffes are irrelevant? The answers are, no, yes and no.

Obama And Romney Square Off In First Presidential Debate In Denver

Philosophical consistency directly applies to satisfying one’s political base and more importantly for enthusiastic GOTV (Get Out the Vote) campaigns. This electoral season is a GOTV year on steroids with very few truly undecided at this late date.

Having command of one’s facts and understanding wonkish details equate to essential gravitas. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin failed this test four years ago, and most likely will never be taken seriously as a legitimate presidential contender.

Staying away from a major blooper, not just a mere malapropos (e.g., “You didn’t build this,” and “Binders full of women”), can be political curtains even for an incumbent president.

Gerald Ford’s nationally televised brain fart in his 1976 debate against Jimmy Carter was most likely fatal to his chances: “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” And given a chance to recant, he doubled down on his stunner: “I don’t believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union.”

Absent not satisfying partisans demanding philosophical fidelity, candidates failing to demonstrate gravitas or uttering embarrassing gaffes, the commanding factor for winning in the courtroom of public opinion comes down to look and feel. How do you present your case, and is the public comfortable with the prospect of watching you night-after-night on television for the next four years?

Consider those who failed when it comes to style points during the past few decades. Are you dispassionate (e.g., Obama in debate #1); do you utter exacerbated sighs (e.g., Gore in 2000) do you mockingly laugh at your opponent (e.g., Biden in this year’s VP debate) or do you have Lazy Shave dripping off your face (e.g., Nixon in 1960).  Sighs matter.

Writing how the debates really matter this year, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote: “…In the days afterward … Mr. Biden seemed to slip, because the national conversation didn’t move off his antics—the chuckles, the grimaces, the theatrical strangeness of it all. A draw, or a victory, began to seem like a loss.”

Conversely, a presidential John F. Kennedy displayed youthful vigor, a plan for the future in his critical debate against a more experienced Richard Nixon. Presence and poise mattered. Twenty years later, there were legitimate concerns about Ronald Reagan’s intelligence and whether he could be trusted with his finger on the nuclear trigger. In his one-and-only debate against President Jimmy Carter (“There you go again…”) he answered these doubts and issued an indictment against a weak incumbent, rhetorically asking whether the majority of the public was better off than it was four years earlier.

Heading into tomorrow’s night’s final debate on foreign policy, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney are locked in a statistical (e.g., Real Clear Politics) tie. The partisans have fully bought into their champions. Barring an off-night, a line for the ages or a major gaffe, tomorrow’s nights debate really boils down to temperament and presentation. Yes, the outcome revolves around not so much to what is said, but how it is said.

And the split screen can mean as much, if not more, than the primary screen. The camera is everywhere and as Dan Rather once said, “The camera never blinks.” How does a candidate visibly react to less-than-pleasant (and often inaccurate) commentary about his positions, policies and programs? Is the candidate confident in the face of withering criticisms or arrogant, pouting, smirking and/or condescending?

Likeability matters.

The same applies to any job seeker in these difficult times. Can you accept criticism? Do you display confidence as opposed to cockiness? Are you bringing your “A” game? Are you fully prepared? Do you really want to be on the stage? Are you the consummate team player?

The last question pertains to “fit.” In an economy with 23 million unemployed, underemployed or simply giving up the hunt for a job, personal intangibles can be the difference between being hired or being the first runner-up (first loser). It can be the decider between promotion or demotion. Or it can be the difference between being employed or let go.

And how you deport yourself, particularly in an advocacy role? It’s okay to be offensive, just as long as you are not “offensive.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444734804578065023315500416.html

http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/28/opinion/brazile-debates-overrated/index.html

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2012/president/us/general_election_romney_vs_obama-1171.html

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