Masters of low expectations

Debate about debating savvy under way

By The Mercury

Don’t you wish sometimes that the presidential candidates were a little more like prizefighters, or better yet, those pro wrestlers with garish costumes who practice their sneers and have mouths that, because they’re exercised incessantly, are bigger than their muscles?

Don’t you wish, just a little, that President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would strut to a microphone and declare, “I’m gonna wipe the floor with that so-and-so?”

Instead, the closest we get is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie telling Americans that when we wake up Thursday, the entire presidential campaign will look different because Mr. Romney will prevail in Wednesday’s debate.

Granted, boasting about victory in advance is hardly presidential. But neither are the namby-pamby games the two candidates and their supporters — apart from Gov. Christie — are playing. Instead, we have President Obama, better known for his ability to turn a phrase than for making tough decisions, pooh-poohing his chances at “winning” the debate. Demonstrating his mastery of false modesty, he defers to Mr. Romney’s rhetorical skill and the experience the Republican nominee acquired during the Republican primary debates. The president says he’s bracing for some “zingers.” He can’t really expect anyone to believe this nonsense, but he has to say it anyway because it’s sportsmanlike and, perhaps more important, close to gaffe-proof.

Mr. Romney, of course, knows sportsmanship and gaffes. He also knows how to play the game, and not just because he’s been a candidate for president since about the time he became eligible to vote.

He’s a former governor and an astute businessman who’s negotiated his way out of tight spots. So it’s not difficult for him to say with a straight face that he won’t just be up against the president Wednesday but also an eloquent debater.

When both candidates aren’t trying to lower expectations these days, they’re digging for factoids, practicing one-liners and sparring with supporters to prepare for Wednesday’s main event. One or both of them will be proclaimed the winner by assorted news outlets, and, we’re told, enjoy a well-deserved but possibly short-lived bump in the polls. Then both candidates will suddenly stop praising each other’s debating ability and revert to negative campaigning.

It’s enough to make you want to mop the floor with them.

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