I don't think Sarah Palin intentionally flubbed her pre-debate interviews to lower expectations as much as possible, but that has been the practical effect. And the Obama campaign is trying to dial it back and restore her reputation as an excellent debater, to balance things out.
After repeatedly calling Palin first "an extremely good debater," then a "great" one, at the end he ramped it up to "Gov. Palin is one of the best debaters in American politics," at which point the press gaggle interrupted him with its laughter.
"No, she is! Her 2006 debate, she knew where she wanted to take every question, and so I think she'll be relentlessly on message tonight..."
The interviews were conducted on the turf of the interviewer. The debate will be on Palin's turf. It's quite structured, with little time for any back-and-forth between the candidates, so there's not much chance of going off the prepared script, which will be filled with the type of zingers she delivered very well in St. Paul. And the McCain campaign has seemed to figure out that Palin's only way through this is to attack her opponent and take the focus off of her positions and knowledge and onto Biden's.
But more than all of this, Atrios described what is most likely to come out of tonight, and certainly what I'll be looking for:
I'm guessing they twist something - anything - Biden says into being an attack on Palin's children/family somehow.
Get ready! The Wahmbulance is coming to town.
This doesn't have to be picked up by the immediate snap polls - Democrats seem to have an advantage on those - but afterwards, when it'll be relentlessly hyped by Drudge and Rush and the noise machine. Maybe Lynne Cheney will reprise her role and call Joe Biden "a baaaad man!"
The media is telegraphing this one. They are ready for any slight - Tweety and Kit Seelye obsessed over whether Biden will help Palin with her chair despite the fact that they'll be at podiums. And the culture of victimhood and self-pity on the right will certainly make it so that their ears will be pricked for anything they can twist into an insult. I'm fully expecting it.
And though the media of late has been calling the Republicans on their B.S. and has really internalized the plain truth that McCain has run a dirty, dishonest and dishonorable campaign, this race is getting a bit out of hand, maybe too much for their tastes:
Much of the news media is reporting that Barack Obama is pulling away from John McCain ... and suggesting that, because of low expectations, Sarah Palin need only get through tonight's debate without accidentally endorsing Obama in order to be successful. Put the two together, and it's hard to avoid the suspicion that the media is more than ready to push a McCain-Palin "comeback" narrative -- and, consciously or not, to help that comeback along.
Don't believe that kind of thing happens? Here's Brian Williams and Howard Fineman, in a September 21, 2000 exchange:
HOWARD FINEMAN: The media pendulum swings, as you were pointing out before, Brian. Bill Clinton can resurface in this campaign in a way that might not necessarily help Al Gore. And Al Gore himself has a tendency to begin - when he's ahead especially I think - talking down to the country like he's the kindergarten teacher talking to the class. I think all those factors are at play right now as Bush has really had probably the best week he's had since his convention speech. And Gore has had his worst.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Howard, I don't know of any kind of conspiratorial trilateral commission-like council meetings in the news media. But you bring up an interesting point. And boy, it does seem true over the years that the news media almost reserve the right to build up and tear down and change their minds and like an underdog. What's that about?
HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, what it's about is the relentless search for news and the relentless search for friction in the story. I don't think the media was going to allow just by its nature the next seven weeks and the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign to be all about Al Gore's relentless triumphant march to the presidency.
We want a race I suppose. If we have a bias of any kind, it's that we like to see a contest, and we like to see it down the end if we can. And I think that's partly the psychology at play here.
Anyway, I'll be trying to sort all of this out tonight with Brad Friedman of BradBlog, who's guest-hosting a special "VP Debate" edition of the Mike Malloy Show immediately following the Biden-Palin matchup. Also appearing:
MARCY WHEELER of Emptywheel
MARC "ARMED LIBERAL" DANZIGER of Winds Of Change
PAMELA LEAVEY of The Democratic Daily, and;
PATRICK FREY of Patterico
Check your local listings for radio stations in your area. You can also find a live stream here.
Or, just chat about the debate here.