Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Politics of Low Expectations

A month ago John McCain at the Republican convention accepted his nomination by giving what by every account was a non impressive speech. Yet, everyone agreed that by the expectations set for him, he did quite well. Leading up to the speech, the pundits agreed giving speeches is not really McCain’s shtick. The night before, Sarah Palin, at that time still fresh and new, had given a speech also that mesmerized the Republican faithful gathered in St. Paul, MN. The expectations for her speech was high, no one knew anything about her and when she delivered a clear and concise speech with sharp jabs at the Democrats, the punditry agreed she had exceeded expectations. A week before that expectations was even higher for his acceptance speech. Obama his known to as a gifted orator and on this his most important speech, the question was can he step up to the plate and delivered? Usually in politics, you try to set the expectations low for your candidate, the Obama camp did no such thing, they let the expectations simmer. That Thursday night in Denver, CO, in front of 85,000 fans at Invesco field, Barack Obama came out and delivered a speech that met and exceeded every expectation.

Fast forward to Thursday’s debate. Sarah Palin after giving a series of interviews that makes George W. Bush look like an intellectual, the expectation is all of a sudden low. For Joe Biden all the pressure is on him. This is more like what has been happening in the past few years, each time there is a debate between a Democrat and Republican, the Republican candidate is given such a low standard of expectation that it is almost impossible not to exceed it. Remember George W. Bush and Al Gore? Yep, the punditry were shocked that Bush was even able to stand through the end of the debate without asking for a timeout. Al Gore won all the debates, but the standard was so low for Bush that he just waltzed past the debates. He could have just shown up and said my name is George W. Bush, I am a compassionate conservative!” and the media would have been chanting Hercules! Hercules!! Hercules!!! Same story with Bush four years later and John Kerry.

Life is not fair and life for the candidates is even more unfair. But campaigns do control the post and pre-spin of a debate. Republicans have been very good at lowering expectations for their candidates. Democrats need to learn. When Sarah Palin first came on the national stage, all I heard from Democrats was how Joe Biden was going to mop the floor with Palin at the vice presidential debate. Totally wrong move, you don’t do that, You are suppose to raise expectations for your opponent while lowering yours. I have been glad to see Joe Biden say that he expects Sarah Palin to be a strong and gifted debater. About time! I expect Joe Biden who has been in the Senate since Palin was in second grade to be boring. I also expect Sarah Palin to come out to the debate and skin Joe Biden like he was a salmon or moose.

We need to stop setting standards so low for the people running to lead this country. This is not a competition for Ms. Alaska, Sarah Palin cannot just come out and wave to the crowd and assume that is all. Both candidates need to be held to the same standards of expectations. One of them is going to be Vice President of the United States of America. One of them will be only a heartbeat from being leader of the free world. The stakes are high for both candidates!

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