I'm concerned about the Vice-Presidential debates tonight.
Not the winner. Each campaign will tell you that their candidate 'won'. It's up to each of us to make that determination to our own individual satisfaction.
No, I'm concerned about a phrase that I'm hearing time after time - even in the presidential debates. The phrase: 'low expectations'.
Currently we hear that the Republican vice-presidential nominee might do well because the 'expectations are low'. Really?! Is that what we want out of someone who will be a heartbeat away from the Oval office?
We've heard complaints that Sarah Palin gets asked 'hard questions' and that there are some things that its unfair to expect her to know. Really?! Do we want a Vice-President to not be able to answer hard questions?
Look, Sarah Palin is not the issue for me here. She can take care of herself. This is a big moment, and for all the hypocrisy, irrationality and inconsistency that we have seen in this campaign, across the board, Governor Palin's presence on McCain's ticket is historic and meaningful.
But what does it say to our children, for instance, that we insist on good grades, stellar academic performance, a college education and then, in one of the most historic elections in history, there are those who believe that a candidate for the second highest office in the land, should do well because the expectations are low?
We have seen flippancy, sarcasm and snideness exalted while the capacity for coherence, thoughtfulness and an understanding of facts is deprecated and derided as 'elitism'! So what does it tell our children about excellence?
Is this how far we have fallen? At one time a former president of Princeton University became President of the U.S. Theodore Roosevelt had a prodigious intellect. Dwight Eisenhower was a brilliant military strategist, Bill Clinton is a Rhodes scholar, Ronald Reagan (this is just my belief), had a native intelligence that showed itself in his timing and his capacity to grow in office. That had nothing to do with whether or not you agreed with his policies. But I always thought that most of the attacks on his intelligence were more than a little unfair. But now we are asked to consider candidates for our highest office and leader of the free world, because they are able to meet 'low expectations'.
Even more significant to me, is to say that the reason why a candidate isn't thoughtful, reflective, knowledgeable, intellectually curious or articulate, is because a candidate is 'just like you'. Don't I have the right to feel just a little insulted?
Are we going to have to tell our children, that when they grow up competing for a job promotion, that they don't have to worry about showing how qualified they are, all they have to do is 'embarrass' the other guy? In another conflict with Russia, are we going to say that the reason why we can't come to an agreement is because they have 'talk funny'?
At the very least, it ought to be clear that the Governor Palin has not done well in her one-on-one interviews. Those interviews have left people wondering about her intellect and her fitness for the office for which she's running. And I know that interviews can be hard. I've done a few, and I know what its like to get lost in a sentence and a thought - or, how about this: not know the answer. It really is understandable that some people just don't interview well!
But this campaign that matters. Our economy is wrecked, we are involved in two wars, our standing in the world has been compromised, 600,000 (and counting) have lost their jobs since January. The president we elect in November will join other world leaders in bringing the world back to some level of economic solvency and, hopefully some measure of global peace and stability. The next president will shepherd this country into an era of energy independence and tackle issues of world hunger. The poor in this country will need to have a safety net repaired and strengthened. Shouldn't we care that they speak to us and the world in ways that inspire confidence?
Neither great intellect, eloquence, or articulateness guarantee success. They don't demonstrate character. To say so would be like saying that because someone is an excellent speller, they can write the great American novel. But intellectual curiosity and the ability to understand nuance and complexity, the capacity to raise the level of pubic debate and conversation can be signs of preparedness and they can also help us make informed decisions when it comes to our national leaders.
A reporter asked an astronaut what his thoughts were as he was in the capsule waiting for lift off. He said, "The thing that kept going through my mind was, 'This thing was built by the lowest bidder'"!
I don't care whether its Obama-Biden, or McCain-Palin, I don't want to vote for someone who has met 'low expectations'.