John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Expectations Game

Posted on September 23, 2008



            The Democrats are the masters of the expectations game.


            They play the game much better than the Republicans, and they have willing assistance from the national media.


            That is especially the case in the upcoming Presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama.


            Just about any time I turn on the television, I hear the lamentations from the Democrats about how poorly Obama does in debates.


            Pretty much every Democratic pundit and NBC anchor has the same talking points.  Obama got killed in his debates with Hillary.  He is too professorial.  He is not tough enough.  He is too smart.  Blah, blah, blah.


            John Broder wrote the typical “analysis” of Obama’s debating deficiencies: 


“Senator Barack Obama has shown himself at times to be a great orator. His debating skills, however, have been uneven. Some of his chief strengths — his facility with words, his wry detachment, his reasoning skills, his youthful cool — have not always served him well and may pose significant vulnerabilities in the series of presidential debates that begins Friday, according to political analysts and a review of his earlier debate performances.”


McCain, on the other hand, is portrayed as a fearless debater, quick with one-liners, tough, decisive, blah, blah, blah. 


Kit Seelye of the Times put it this way, “Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, heads into the first debate on Friday with a track record as a scrappy combatant and the instincts of a fighter pilot, prepared to take out his opponent and willing to take risks to do so.”


Of course, this is all poppycock. 


Obama should be the clear favorite to win this debate.  Obama is the Harvard-trained lawyer, McCain barely graduated from the Naval Academy.  Obama is the smooth communicator, McCain’s speaking style can only be described as disjointed.  Obama is young, McCain is old.  Obama is long and skinny, McCain is short and stubby. 


The Democrats are trying to do the same thing with the Palin-Biden debate.  Palin, who has never been on the big stage before, is the big underdog against Joe Biden, who spent the last year and a half debating anybody who would listen (including his running mate), trying to convince somebody that he would make a good President.  Palin may have had a few debates with her husband, but beyond that, she hasn’t had a debate since she ran for Governor a year and a half ago. 


Part of the reason that the media has fallen for the Democratic spin is because they are in the tank for Obama, but part of it is because McCain challenged Obama to a series of town-hall meeting-style of debates.  Obama’s decision to decline the invitation was seen as a sign that Obama was scared to debate McCain.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  The way you heighten the importance of these debates is to have fewer of them, and to have them closer to the election.  And that is, of course, what Obama did.  He is licking his chops to take McCain on. 


Republicans ought to start down-playing the significance of these debates immediately.  McCain is probably going to lose them, at least in the eyes of the media.  We might as well get the voters ready for that eventuality.

Subscribe to the Feehery Theory Newsletter, exclusively on Substack.
Learn More