Everybody knows that it's vital to manage expectations. If a seller makes a buyer believe the product is more wonderful than it really is, the customer will be disappointed, no matter how decent the product actually might be.
Social scientists have documented the importance of expectations in schools. They divided students up into random groups just before school started and told their new teachers different things about them.
When teachers were told that their class was made of bright kids who hadn't done well because the previous teacher wasn't very good, the teacher's high expectations made the kids do splendidly. When the teachers were told that their class was pretty dull and that they'd done better than expected last year through a fluke, the teacher's low expectations made the kids do poorly.
Republicans have had low expectations of their leaders for years; that's one of the reasons the Republican brand is in so much trouble that it takes a Republican nominee who isn't a real Republican, who's known as a maverick, to have any chance of beating a Democrat who has no executive experience at all. The Republican brand must be in deep trouble for the Democrats to be able to get away with pretending that the Presidency is an entry-level job. Conservatives have asked very little from their leaders and that's what they've received.
John McCain's selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running-mate and the eruptive reaction to it on all sides has turned the political scene into a giant X-ray machine which reveals what's inside a great many people.
You can often tell the most about people by what they do when caught by surprise; pretty much everyone other than John McCain is in exactly that position. With the revelation of young Bristol Palin's finding herself in the family way, we've seen people who claim to be ardent feminists arguing that a mother of five should stay at home to take care of the kids, while staunchly religious conservatives who've made a virtue of women being homemakers take the opposite position. What new revelations lie in store?
There's a lot about Gov. Palin and her family for America to like, especially conservatives. If America really goes for the president with whom the average voter would most like to have a beer, former beauty queen Ms. Palin is surely the candidate for whom most (male) voters would want to buy a beer.
We at Scragged like to think ourselves more concerned with the deeper issues, the policies and positions, the life experience, those 3 AM phone calls...
Oh, for goodness' sake. Let's face it, that's not how the American electorate looks at political campaigns.
Yes, people care about political promises, but there isn't anyone left in either party who actually believes any of them, partly because politicians will say anything to win elections and partly because our executive branch is so fouled up that a President has no way to enforce policies with which bureaucrats happen to disagree.
Voters have learned that if you count on the platform issues, you're sure to find yourself disappointed and angry by next spring. It seems that voters no longer believe political promises, so they want to get a measure of the person - what makes him or her tick, what sort of a person he or she might be.
That's why John McCain's heroism under Vietnamese torture is so relevant and why Sarah Palin's willingness to imprison corrupt members of her own party is compelling.
Thus, we find something passing strange in the reaction to the Palins' anti-abortion credentials. These are absolutely impeccable, as we've noted before; how can anyone debate successfully against a woman who, herself, chose to give life to a retarded child instead of aborting him as her doctor recommended? You can't get more pro-life than that.
Clearly, those same beliefs were passed on to her children. Bristol Palin may have had a moment of weakness, as many if not most teens these days do; but when presented with a truly life-defining choice involving life or death, she made the morally correct decision: she is following the traditional path of keeping her child and marrying the father of her child.
Why is the right so overjoyed by this? The issue of abortion is fundamentally very simple and straightforward. It comes down to one crystal clear question: what is a fetus?
Either a fetus is a human being or it is not. Even Joycelyn Elders, Mr. Clinton's Surgeon General, understood this, accusing pro-lifers of "having a love affair with the fetus."
If a fetus is a human being, its presence in the womb is irrelevant. It doesn't matter where a human being is - America, Africa, prison, the Army, Guantanamo Bay - in order for any human being to have human rights, the most basic of which is to not be deprived of your life without due process and just cause.
There is simply no way to finesse this point. Being human is not something you slowly grow into; like pregnancy itself, you either are human or you aren't.
We once fought a Civil War over the question of whether humanity was determined by skin color. Given that people occasionally die in clinic bombings, and tens of millions die inside operating abortion clinics, we are now fighting a low-grade civil war over the question of whether humanity is determined by location - in the womb, tissue; vs. outside the womb, human being.
Actually, it's not even that clear cut - Mr. Obama voted against a law that would have required doctors to take care of infants who were born alive after botched abortions instead of letting them die of neglect outside the womb.
In complete contrast, if a fetus is not a human being, it's part of the mother. Nobody thinks twice about biting off their own hangnails; nobody questions the right of any adult to decide on surgery for themselves, even extreme plastic surgery or body-modification.
If a fetus is just tissue, abortion is not a moral question, it's no question at all. It's of no more concern than an appendectomy or a haircut.
People forget that the original reason for forbidding abortion was that abortions were dangerous; having the baby was much safer. Abortion was forbidden except to save women's lives, a clear moral imperative.
The original rationale for anti-abortion laws disappeared as abortion became safer, leaving the issue of the fetus' humanity the sole question in whether or not to permit abortion. As the Supreme Court stated in Roe v Wade, the question of the humanity of the fetus is a matter of morals, not a matter of science.
When liberal women of the left have abortions, it's what one would expect. Of course having a baby can be inconvenient; that's what a fetus usually becomes if you leave it alone. By definition, liberal feminists don't believe that a fetus is a human being, so why wouldn't they have abortions if they want to? No surprise there.
Why, then, are conservatives so overjoyed by the choices for life made by Palin senior and by Palin junior? If the Palins, as they have steadfastly claimed, truly believe abortion to be murder, of course that's what they'd do. Anything else would be a horrifying betrayal of their stated core beliefs.
We ought to be deeply disturbed when we find ourselves celebrating someone living up to their oft-expressed principles. Isn't that what people, particularly our elected leaders, are supposed to do?
We might as well have a parade for a politician who does not steal funds from the public treasury. Have our expectations of our leaders sunk so low that we're surprised, nay, amazed when a political person makes a decision based on principle rather than on personal profit?
The African Statesman Initiate seeks to demonstrate to African leaders that there can be life after politics to encourage them to leave office properly when their term is up. Would a similar European Statesman Initiative make sense?
Of course not - everybody expects European politicians to respect the voters' decisions. Anything else would be shocking, and any European politician behind, say, a military coup would be an instant pariah. It's only because African governance is so appallingly bad that this Initiative is even needed.
What does it say about Republican politicians in general that conservative footsoldiers are so relieved to find a highly-visible Republican family actually practicing what they preach?
Democrats generally practice what they preach, at least what they preach to themselves in private. They believe government should oversee everything, that the wealthy do not deserve their wealth and that most of their wealth should be taken from them, and that the poor are poor only through bad luck or societal oppression and thus have a legitimate claim on everyone else's money - and by gum, they legislate accordingly. At least they're consistent - only the most extreme pocket Marxists complain that the Democrats are insincere about their leftist beliefs.
Why, then, are we surprised when a Republican demonstrates such utter, irrefutable conviction concerning a core Republican belief? If living out core Republican values is what mavericks do, let's have more of them. Better an honest maverick than a RINO (Republican In Name Only).
Conservatives want to back their team just like liberals want to back theirs. We want to stand up and cheer, wear T-shirts and buy yard signs because we want the country to be run our way.
In order for that to happen, the party marketing material has to be in sync and it has to be good. We can't convince our neighbors to pull the lever for McCain if we can barely muster the strength to do it ourselves. We have to believe, on some basic level, that our team really is worth our time, our money, and our sacred honor.
Over the past decade, the GOP marketing material has gone from bad to worse.
Conservatives are told that it takes an aisle-crosser to "get things done" yet the only things getting done are McCain-Feingold and the Gang of 14.
Conservatives are told that they "don't see the big picture" on illegal immigration while hospitals go bankrupt, blue collar jobs evaporate, and traffic accidents due to illegal drivers skyrocket.
What is the marketing material from Palin? Not that it's wrong for minors to bear illegitimate children, but that we should congratulate them for "not aborting it." It's not easy to know what the perfect thing to say would have been, but Palin's initial comments could have carried far more rebuke than they did.
Voters that feel like their vote doesn't matter quickly become non-voters. The GOP base has grown weary. Without marketing material and a leadership message they can be proud of, it's only a matter of time before low expectations become none at all.
Sarah Palin has the opportunity to turn this around. Does she have the ability? If so, there is no limit to the heights she may reach - but if not, both she and the Republican party itself are perilously close to being consigned to the dustbin of history.