Advice: Obama, explain; Romney, chill the tough talk

Workers prepare the stage for the final presidential debate Monday night at Lynn University in Florida.

Story highlights

  • Republican Will Cain to Obama: Explain in detail the attack in Benghazi, Libya
  • Cain: Of course, Obama should point to killing of Osama bin Laden
  • Democrat Hilary Rosen: Romney must behave like a commander in chief
  • Rosen: He should "chill" on aggressive stances or risk making U.S. seem like a bully

CNN asked a Democrat, Hilary Rosen, and a Republican, Will Cain, to offer advice to the opposing party's candidate for Monday's final presidential debate.

Will Cain's advice for President Obama

Be prepared to answer one question: Why, for almost two weeks after the attacks on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, did your administration give the American people the impression that the attack was part of a spontaneous protest over an offensive video?

This is not criticism veiled as advice. Monday night's debate will largely focus on foreign policy. If that question is not asked, it will be journalistic malpractice by moderator Bob Schieffer and debate malpractice by Mitt Romney.

Will Cain

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Malpractice is exactly what Romney committed in the last debate by bickering over whether the word "terrorism" was uttered in the Rose Garden. Who cares what happened in the Rose Garden? The picture that Susan Rice and Jay Carney painted was clear and wrong. There was no protest over a video. There was no protest at all.

It could be that initial intelligence wrongly suggested it was a spontaneous attack in response to a video and that even now the nature of the attack isn't fully clear, as The Washington Post reported on Friday. But within hours of the attack there were contradictory reports. And as reported by The Daily Beast's Eli Lake, those initial reports were soon put in doubt.

Whatever the answer, Obama should expect the question to be asked, and respond not with outrage, but accountability.

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Romney will try to draw clear distinctions over how he would handle Iran, Afghanistan, and China. Most of his criticism will revolve around rhetoric. The theme: Romney will be strong, Obama weak. On this Romney runs the risk of looking petty in questioning the burdens and respect that accompany the title commander in chief.

But this one question is about truth and accountability. Obama will need an answer. Not for Romney. For the American people.

And it will be asked.

Oh yeah, mention Osama bin Laden at some point too.

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Hilary Rosen's advice for Mitt Romney

Hilary Rosen

A debate on foreign policy for most Americans is, let's face it, like eating your peas. You know it matters, but you just can't get too excited about about it. In a way, perhaps that is as it should be.

If Americans felt their safety was particularly threatened by global events, people would be much more engaged in the policy discussion that will take place Monday night. Of course there are grave issues many parts of the world: the seemingly never-ending threat to Israel from Iran and others, North Korea, trade deficits with China, a weak economy in Europe, and pockets of anti-Western terrorism in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa. And the United States has much at stake in the outcomes of them or in shaping the ongoing crises.

But the reality is also that we have spent billions of dollars in two wars over the last 12 years, and President Obama has kept his promise to bring those wars to an end and to focus his effort on keeping America safe.

War of words over Benghazi attack

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    War of words over Benghazi attack

War of words over Benghazi attack 03:54
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What role will Benghazi play in debate?

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    What role will Benghazi play in debate?

What role will Benghazi play in debate? 05:05
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So how does Mitt Romney get an edge over the president in a foreign policy debate? My view is that he must simply look like a commander in chief for the future. In an effort to distinguish himself from Obama, Romney has made some big mistakes with regard to foreign policy.

Romney's biggest mistake may simply be in his attitude. In short, he acts like a leader from the 1950s who is still trying to prove to the world that America is not just the best country, but the boss of the world. And in 2012, that just doesn't fly. Are we the leader of the free world? Yes. Are we a nation that should continue to share our democratic values with the world? Yes. Can we control everything that happens in the world? No -- and we shouldn't try. Simply put, we can't afford it and we don't need to.

So when Romney blusters on about how much tougher he would be than Obama, in an effort to distinguish a foreign policy that isn't very distinguishable, he should pay careful attention to the fact that were he to be president, acting so aggressively would carry expectations that he follow through. And the American people do not want a president who picks fights around the world.

My advice to Romney is to "chill" a little in the debate. Don't act like you will be the world's bully. Act thoughtful and well, presidential -- like our actual president.

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