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Henican: A cut above low expectations

Mitt Romney during a soundcheck on the final

Mitt Romney during a soundcheck on the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. (Aug. 30, 2012) Credit: Getty Chip Somodevilla

Oh, the gift of low expectations! May we all be so lucky as to have little expected from us.

Here was Mitt Romney on the big stage in Tampa, Fla., delivering a perfectly fine acceptance speech. Reading smoothly. Applying volume and emotion at appropriate spots. Accurately delivering a handful of decently crafted lines.

And the hall erupted in delirium.

He hadn't blown the election. He made more sense than Clint Eastwood. It was the greatest speech he had ever made.

"Clearing a low bar," this is called disparagingly, which completely misunderstands the blessing of low bars. In worlds of power and influence especially, it is far better today to arrive with reduced expectations and surpass them than it is to have a reputation for brilliant achievement and fall the tiniest millimeter short.

Just ask the corporate chief executive whose quarterly earnings have arrived a nickel shy of Wall Street's predictions. Soon enough, he'll be an ex-CEO.

George W. Bush, who proved himself a master of this expectations game, once spoke with somber alarm at the "soft bigotry of low expectations," the notion that some kids do poorly in school because they are expected to. It was a snappy phrase, coined by chief White House phrase-turner Michael Gerson, and it may well apply to poor schools. Credit Gerson as well for "axis of evil," "armies of compassion" and the "smoking gun-mushroom cloud" metaphor that helped sell the war in Iraq.

But Bush didn't win a second term on his stirring oratory, any more than he did on his foreign-policy nuance.

Barack Obama, by contrast, is known as giving wonderful, crowd-moving speeches. This is a huge and unwelcome burden for him.

Put it this way: After Romney's workmanlike delivery in Tampa, Obama had better bring down the house in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday night.


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