Let’s go back in time to 2008. Specifically, to 2 October 2008 at Washington University in St. Louis, MO.
That was the time and place of the vice-presidential debate between then-Delaware Senator Joe Biden and then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. It was a much hyped event between the two vice-presidential nominees, and it was the second debate to ever feature a woman in a debate between the major party tickets. The first being the debate between George H.W. Bush and Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.
In the lead up to the Biden-Palin debate, Biden was careful to learn the lessons from the 1984 debate between Bush and Ferraro. He was calm and cool compared to his 2012 debate performance where he was told to release the Biden and re-introduced the word malarkey to the world. It was revealed that in debate prep that it was then-Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm who played the role of Palin while the real Palin was in a bit of a debate boot camp in Arizona and basically stuck to a script. As shown in the movie “Game Change” and in a 60 Minutes interview with senior McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt, Palin would occasionally refer to her opponent as O’Biden; a sort of a portmanteau of Obama and Biden.
The McCain-Palin campaign understood that they had a potential disaster on their hands with Palin on the ticket. It was partly due to their campaign not properly vetting her as compared to Obama and his team methodically vetting running mates. The McCain campaign learned that Palin relied heavily on note cards during preparation as well as not having a basic command of certain facts such as Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state while her prime minister is the head of government, the reason why the US got involved in Iraq, and the duties and responsibilities of the vice-president.
Back to the 2008 vice-presidential debate
Saying O’Biden and relying on the cards as a crutch set off all sorts of red flags in Arizona. The campaign knew that they couldn’t weigh Palin with too much information and instead told her to stick to certain talking points, some rehearsed one-liners, and prayed that she somehow made it through the debate without a major gaffe.
The campaign’s surrogates also made a sly attack on debate moderator Gwen Ifill due to her book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, that was due out on 20 January 2009. McCain praised Ifill for her objectivity while Ifill herself said that people “can watch the debate… and make their own decisions about whether or not I’ve done my job.”
The expectations for Palin heading into the debate were low and she managed to clear them by just walking over the bar. The press was ready to write the “Palin does well in the debate” headline until the various post-debate polls said otherwise.
CBS’s instant poll said that 46% thought Biden won the debate to which it was widely believed that Schmidt said “fuck CBS and their instant poll” in the debate green room. ORC said Biden won 51-36 and in the same poll, 87% believed that Biden was capable of fulfilling the duties of vice-president while 42% said Palin was. Fox News’ poll nearly found identical results to the ORC poll, 51-39 for Biden.
Even though the 2008 vice-presidential debate was a pivotal moment in that election, in the end it really had no lasting effect. What sunk the McCain campaign (besides Palin) was an economy that was imploding, rising gas prices, two wars, a deeply unpopular term-limited incumbent president, McCain referring to Obama as “that one” during a debate, and the Democrats making the argument that 2008 was a continuous change election due to headwinds received two years earlier in the 2006 mid-terms.
In a way history is repeating itself heading into this first presidential debate that is being hosted later tonight.
So far in this general election campaign it is Clinton that is being held to a higher standard while for Trump, his expectations are that he shows up onto the stage and manages to stay there for the full 90 minutes without embarrassing himself.
Just posting these together so future gender studies professors don't have to go looking for separate tweets. pic.twitter.com/EhNQBIA4xL— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) September 26, 2016
And like the accusations of Ifill’s credibility eight years ago, Trump claimed that debate moderator Lester Holt from NBC Nightly News would not be fair because Holt is a Democrat.
Actually, Holt is a registered Republican and has been one since 2003 according to New York State voter registration records.
In the same interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, Trump also claimed that CNN’s Anderson Cooper would be unfair but also praised Chris Wallace who is moderating the third presidential debate.
Chris Wallace also works for Fox News.
These and the many things that Trump has said and done in the past (and 74 more things Trump has said this month also) would be grounds for immediate dismissal from the body politic.
Clinton and Trump are clearly being held to two different standards in the same way that Palin was held to the lowered expectation of just showing up to debate and just making it through.
The goal of the debates is supposed to showcase the differences between the two major party candidates and to highlight which ideas would be better for our country. Then in the general election we choose which candidate’s ideas would be better for our country.
If Trump wants to be president, then he should be vetted accordingly as previous candidates have been. Since Trump has never held public office unlike Clinton, there should be greater scrutiny on his business record, the people he has associated himself with over the years, how he treats his employees, his taxes, and whether his business interests would come in conflict with the foreign policy of the United States.
Let Trump complain about not being treated fairly by the press because it is their job to raise the expectations of what we expect in our leaders; not lower them just so that one candidate has an easier threshold to meet.
And these lowered expectations do our country a great disservice.