Thursday, October 02, 2008

Losing the Expectations Game

Obama campaign representative David Plouffe tried to tell the press today that "Gov. Palin is one of the best debaters in American politics." The press broke out laughing. That's called losing the expectations game. After all, Gov. Palin might actually be an excellent debater. I heard she did quite well in Alaska in 2006, and her lack of skill in front of Katie Couric may or may not translate in a different setting. Or maybe she'll be terrible, and everyone's assumptions are right. Nonetheless, from the expectations angle, its clear that Palin has nowhere to go but up.

Plouffe, of course, apparently pushed his luck by moving past "extremely good" debater, to "great" debater, and finally breaking the camel's back with "one of the best" debaters in the United States. But even still, this is getting back to the Daily Show sketch territory of trying to ramp up your opponent's debate skills to ridiculous levels in order to claim victory afterwords. Why don't we play the novel game of evaluating the VP candidates on the merits of their performance?*

* Honestly, though, it isn't entirely unfair to say that Palin might gain ground simply by exceeding expectations. If the expectation is that she's a blithering idiot, that assumption might be driving voters away who could be saying "I'm fine with a standard average politician -- the VP doesn't do that much -- but Palin seems to be in class by herself of dimness." If Palin manages to at least show she can talk about policy coherently, then yes, she's gaining ground in the class of voters. That begs the question of why voters are willing to settle for mediocrity, and whether a single debate performance really should be allowed to subsume all of Palin's other missteps these past few weeks. But I'm calling it like I see it.

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