It’s all about setting expectations. And when it comes to political debates, conventional wisdom suggests that the lower the expectations are, the better it is for the candidate.
According to Time, 44% of Americans expect W to win the debates while 32% expect Kerry to win. And one assumes a significant number of Americans would give anything to see Ross Perot dust off the giant charts and show up for just one more dance.
But I wonder about the strategy of setting low expectations.
The pre-debate period should resemble the pre-fight period ahead of a big money boxing match. I’d like to see Kerry and his corner insist that he will absolutely kick ass in the debates. With an index finger poking at the chest of the American public, Kerry should announce: I’m smarter. I’m taller. I’m better. I sweat less. My make-up people are more experienced. I lick my lips in between long sentences unlike anyone else. Go ahead and doubt me. They doubted me before I buried Dean. They doubted me before I beat the hell out of Weld. I will slap the swagger right out of this chump. The President will finally have found those WMDs and they’re going to be firing out of my podium. His body will be flip-flopping on the canvas by the time I drop my four point body shot on Iraq. He’ll wish he had universal healthcare when he feels the power of my uppercut plan for securing the ports. Eye of the tiger. There is no tomorrow. Ain’t gonna be no rematch. What’s my prediction for the debate? Pain. Biatch…
Let’s face it. The media will treat this as a sporting event with pregame analysis and predictions, instant replays, and postgame commentary. I wouldn’t be surprised to turn on CNN or MSNBC and see the politicians stripping down to their undershorts for the weigh-in.
So why shouldn’t the competitors treat these nights the same way the rest of us do? It’s all about throwing a knock-out punch.
Forget expectations. The worst case for the challenger in these debates is for them to get low ratings among undecideds. The last few weeks of increasingly dirty campaigning isn’t going to lure too many of the “I’m too disgusted to pay attention” crowd.
But pre-fight trash talk will. Forget simply raising excpectations. Kerry should guarantee a victory.
Political debates have gotten to be too big to be managed by groups like the League of Women Voters or even the top news organizations. This is the age of polarized politics, two Americas, dueling networks, forgeries and freeforalls.
Is there really any doubt that the time has come to bring in Don King?