Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Managing debate expectations
DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Senator Kerry has been preparing his whole life for this. He was a prep star debater. He was an Ivy League debater and served 20 years in the United States Senate. So, he's prepared his whole life for this moment, whereas President Bush, he's going to go in there and he's going to hold his own and speak clearly to the American people about what he believes and about how we are prosecuting this war on terror.

Most of attention our attention be focused on the expectations managing message, "George Bush can't use no fancy words like Frenchy Kerry does, so he'll just have to talk from the heart and hope the American people don't mind too much." They used it this message to good effect with Gore. Bush is actually a fairly good debater, but they played him down so much in advance (and allowed us to insult his intelligence) that when he walked out unassisted and didn't swallow his tongue, he exceeded expectations.

The secondary message in this statement, the appeal to American anti-intellectualism, is interesting to me. Kerry is a prep-school and Ivy League educated elite, as opposed to Bush who is -- what exactly? We are expected to picture a young, earnest, barefoot Bush, walking from his hardscrabble farm on the Texas prairie to a humble one-room schoolhouse without electricity. Each night, after contentiously completing his hours of difficult, hard labor chores ("saddle up the stove, Ma. I'm riding the range tonight"), he'd sit by the light of the dying embers of the cook-stove fire doing his homework. We are not supposed to remember that Bush's parents were far richer than Kerry's, that he too attended an exclusive prep-school and, not one, but two Ivy League colleges.

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