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Where Should the Bar Be Set for Sarah Palin?

10/31/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Recently, I wrote tongue-in-cheek that because Republican leadership has been exalting the Greatness of Sarah Palin, they'd set the bar incredibly high for her upcoming debate.

Joking aside, after her scary-ghastly interview with Katie Couric last week, even Republicans understand the scope of that failure, witness their refusing to make her available to simply praise John McCain's debate performance. Amid the frightened reaction and volatile fallout, it's become necessary to take a more realistic view of her debate with Joe Biden. It is important to see the actual threshold she must reach.

And so -- where is the bar for Sarah Palin on Thursday?

Democratic leadership is trying to place it high, contending that she's an excellent debater, a "leviathan of forensics," in their words, as shown by her 2006 gubernatorial debate.

Let's be honest -- this isn't true. This is gamesmanship. I've watched the Alaska debate.

And let's be clear the other way: the challenge isn't whether Sarah Palin can debate -- she can, sort of, in a way. Her challenge is whether she can debate topics she's never had to deal with before. And then explain why Joe Biden is wrong, about everything

So, then, where is the bar for Sarah Palin?

Common wisdom would be that she only has to beat expectations. The problem is, that's no longer true. The reason isn't because Republicans raised the bar so high for her (though they did) -- it's that she lowered it so far for herself. Consider: three days after her awkward interview with Charles Gibson, her approval dropped 12 points. Her scary-ghastly interview with Katie Couric then opened the nation's eyes to the threat she poses to America if elected. A Research 2000 poll taken after that interview not only showed her favorable-to-unfavorable rating the lowest of all candidates, but she dropped to minus 10 points! Even in Alaska, her popularity plummeted a stunning 14 points. John McCain may still like to say how popular she is, but his words only keep serving to show how out-of-touch John McCain is.

As a result of her alarming interviews, doing better than expectations is no longer the bar for Sarah Palin. That ship has long passed. If she uses English in her sentences, she has a good chance of exceeding expectations.

At this point, the bar is that Sarah Palin must prove to a concerned American public that she is qualified to be a heartbeat from the presidency. Most especially under a 72-year old candidate with serious health issues.

Sarah Palin must convince the American public that she can actually lead the nation. Not simply do better than expectations. At this point, there are primitive life forms that could do better than her expectations. She must convince Americans that she won't destroy America.

This is no simple task beyond even the obvious barriers. The first hurdle is that America is in the midst of its biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, and people are especially desperate for serious leadership. The greater difficulty, however, is that after eight years of George Bush, Americans now understand what happens when you give the presidency to someone just because you'd like to have a beer with them, and are demanding substance, unwilling to risk the nation again.

That's where the bar is.

Sarah Palin has to convince Americans that she can handle Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, North Korea, a crushing economic crisis, the $482 billion national debt, health care, education, the environment, nuclear proliferation, the housing crisis, global warming, immigration, abortion, the FBI, Armed Forces, CIA, and every single aspect of national security.

That's where the bar is.

Forget even her childish insistence that she is experienced because she can see Russia. Giving her the benefit of the doubt for her deeper explanation that she really knows all about foreign affairs by reading books -- she has to tell us what books those are. Americans will want to hear what books she has actually read about Pakistan, Iraq, China, Russia, Iran, Latin America, and Venezuela that have made her an accomplished expert. As she claims.

That's where the bar is.

After fearfully avoiding the danger of all major press interviewers, merely wanting to ask her opinion...she has to convince Americans that she can face down the leaders of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

That's where the bar is.

And she set is herself.

It is a bar that focuses on John McCain. Because he chose her. He put America at risk. It was his craven act that put America Last.

The bar isn't to beat low expectations. The bar isn't to show that Sarah Palin can stand for 90 minutes while continuing to breathe. The bar is for Sarah Palin to convince Americans, who have seen her flounder and are at this point terrified of the consequences, that she can actually be President of the United States.

That's where the bar is.

Beating expectations? This isn't about beating expectations. You might not expect a mynah bird to be able to sing "Yankee Doodle," but if it exceeded your expectations, you still wouldn't bankroll it with your life savings star in "Das Rheingold" at the Metropolitan Opera.

This isn't a game show. If you beat expectations, you're safe and invited back next week. You have to prove to Americans, who are now wary, that you can be the Leader of the Free World.

That's where the bar is.

Only weeks before becoming the Republican nominee for vice president, Sarah Palin said she didn't even know what the vice president did every day. What she has to do is convince Americans that she not only knows what the vice president does, but that she understands what the President of the United States does.

And that she can do it.

That's where the bar is.