Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Raising expectations: Talking up Palin's debating skills

By Michael J.W. Stickings

WSJ: "Palin Proved to Be Formidable Foe in Alaska Debates."

NYT: "Past Debates Show a Confident Palin, at Times Fluent but Often Vague."

LAT: "Underestimate Palin at your own risk, former rivals say."

ABC: "Sarah Palin, Debate Champ."

HuffPo: "Why Sarah Palin Is A Better Debater Than You Think."

Politico: "On small stage, Palin scored big debate wins."

You know why this is good? Because it raises the expectations for Palin going into tomorrow's debate. And, the mainstream media being what they are -- i.e., horse-race enthusiasts -- the debates are all about who scored the most political points, that is, about who won and who lost -- and determining who won and who lost is generally based not so much on substance, nor even so much on style, but on how well (or poorly) the candidates perform relative to their individualized expectations, expectations manufactured well in advance by the media themselves.

Now, of course, the expectations for Palin are -- thanks to her poor performances with Gibson and Couric, her avoidance of the press, and the general view that she is utterly ignorant, unprepared, and unqualified -- pitifully low. Even raised up, they will be lower than they are for Biden, who has proven himself over the years to be a solid debater and interviewee, as well as an expert on matters both domestic and foreign. In this respect, while Biden will need to prove himself worthy by reaching, if not surpassing, the media's lofty expectations of him (in order to "win" or "tie"), Palin will just need to show up, look good, and come across as somewhat plausible. If, on top of that, she is coherent and seemingly credible, as she was in her acceptance speech at the RNC, she'll be judged to have surpassed expectations and perhaps to have won the debate even if Biden does well and exceeds her in substance.

In short, the debate has already been set up for a Palin "win."

And if the expectations game isn't enough, conservatives like Michelle Malkin and the unfair and unbalanced people at Fox News are dumping all over the debate moderator Gwen Ifill for writing a book about "politics and race in the age of Obama." Steve Benen: "I suspect Republicans don't really care about Ifill or her book, but are raising a fuss so that a) they'll have an excuse if Palin fails to meet expectations tomorrow night; and b) they might 'work the ref' and pressure Ifill into going easy on Palin." He suspects rightly. Conservatives certainly don't seem to mind it when Bush pal Bob Schieffer is a debate moderator.

It may very well be that Palin has nowhere to go but up tomorrow night, and it may very well be that it will be difficult for Biden to beat her in the expectations game, but at least, at the very least, the bar is being raised for her.

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