Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The great advantage of low expectations

On my way into work today, something a little frightening occurred to me...

Sarah Palin's disasterous first week might really redound to her credit in the debates against Joe Biden.

Let me explain: Back in 2000, everyone thought that George W. Bush was a sitting duck in the debates against Al Gore. There was no way that such a callow yutz as Bush was going to outshine a sitting vice president who had a sterling career as a senator and a vast reservoir of policy knowledge.

And then what happened? Bush walked away with it! For three debates!

Some said that Al Gore lost it because he came off as arrogant. (Which I think has a lot of merit. Watching it at home I winced after every sigh.) But I think Bush won it primarily because the media had set him up to fail. Because he didn't come off like a complete moron, those accusations of stupidity seemed thin. (Some, like the great James Fallows, insist that Bush is not a bad debater. But I'm not convinced.)

This might be exactly what happens with Sarah Palin.

A lot of people on the Democratic side are worried that Joe Biden might say or do something condescending to her in the debate that will endear her to female voters (think Rick Lazio). But I don't think so. First off, the Obama campaign is too smart not to have anticipated that. Biden will no doubt treat her with great respect. (And, besides, her debate is going to matter a lot less than the Obama versus McCain debate, anyway.) But if she can show some spunk and a basic mastery of detail, people will score it as a win.