Saturday, October 09, 2004
The “Soft” Prejudice of Low Expectations vs The Hanging Curve Ball
Presidential Debate #2: I thought both candidates did pretty well. Two things really stick out in my viewing of the give and take:
1) The “Soft” Prejudice of Low Expectations
Bush did much better this time -- he went from a grade of "D" to a "B minus." Hardly a resounding victory, but at least he didn't stink the room up like last time. That is what has been so aptly called the “Soft” Prejudice of Low Expectations: Merely not totally sucking is perceived, at least in some quarters, as total victory.
I do not agree with that assessment -- at least not within the context of the debate -- but I do see the logic of that within the larger campaign. Imagine what would have happened if Bush had a similar performance to the first debate -- scowling, rambling, unable to coherently fill 120 seconds. It would have been game over.
While not losing big is not the same as a clean victory, at least, from the W's point of view, he has lived to fight another day. That's important for any incumbent with only 24 days to go.
2) The Hanging Curve Ball
I thought Kerry was good tonite. Not great, but very good: He may have slipped from an "A minus" to a "B plus." He was "Presidential," he obviously has a command of the issues, the policies, the facts. He seemed to connect with the members of the audience much more than I expected. The sense I got from the debate was that he is a very different Man than the one portrayed in the attack ads.
My main criticism of Kerry's performance : The Hanging Curve Ball. In baseball, the hanging curve ball is a pitch that fails to break. Its the big fat melon, just waiting for a batter to crush it, hit it way way out of the park.
In this debate, there were plenty of hanging curve balls. I thought Kerry put "wood to the ball, hit singles and doubles" to carry the baseball metaphor further. But he didn't really crush any towering home runs. He failed to really knock one out of the park.
And he should have: On Stem cell research, on the Environment, on the Deficit, on Iraq, on Tax policy, even on Abortion, where his views are much more in sync with those of the American public's than the President's. I'm not suggesting his answers were bad -- they were all pretty decent to good. But there were no grand slam home runs -- despite plenty of opportunities. I kept pausing TiVo and giving the "that one's outta here" answers -- until the wife finally said: "Okay, we get it, your better than both of them." (I got the hint and knocked it off.) Which leads me to wonder:
Is a Bigger Strategy at Work?
For two weeks, we've heard that Kerry is the best debater since Cicero. I have yet to see that. In Debate 1, Bush imploded -- with some prodding from Kerry, for sure -- but mostly on his own. In Debate 2, Bush improved; I gave a slight edge to Kerry, but hardly the blowout of the first bout.
Which leads me to wonder: Is there a larger design at work? To switch from a baseball to a boxing metaphor, was the thinking behind this debate a "middle rounds" strategy -- a matter of pacing, playing it a little safe until the final rounds? Kerry clearly bloodied Bush in the first debate (rounds 1 - 5). The second debate (rounds 6 - 10), they both held their own. But was the challenger holding back the devastating knock out punch until the last debate (rounds 11 - 15), when there is no "more rounds, no chance for a "Hail Mary" pass? (Whew! thats 3 sports metaphors). Will we see a more aggressive approach when there is little time for the incumbent to recover?
We do not yet know. Is the tactical approach the correct strategy? I've always thought that if you can deliver the knock out blow, you do so. You never know when (or even if) the next opportunity will arise.
When you are running against an incumbent with his record, you should pound away on it every chance you get, make this all about the incumbent. Do you want another four more years like the past four years? Then vote for him. If you think we are on the wrong track, than vote for me. Easy . . . simple . . . devastating.
Unless the strategists have determined this is a marathon. (4 sports metaphors -- a personal record). How important is pacing in this race, especially considering how news events outside of both parties control (Iraq, Jobs data, etc.) will continue to frame the race.
I thought this was close, with an element of missed opportunity. I will reserve final judgment until Wednesday . . .
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