Leaders debate: the sound and the fury

I tried the old Kennedy/Nixon radio vs. TV test with Tuesday night’s Canadian Federal Leader’s Debate. According to pundits at the time–50 years ago–Richard Nixon sounded presidential and won that first televised presidential debate if you only listened in on the radio. On TV, however, his five o’clock shadow and flop sweat did him in and well-tanned John Kennedy scored with viewers, especially the babes.
Today, candidates all have handlers and stylists and nobody ever looks too goofy, but there was a difference in how the debate sounded and was seen. Stephen Harper’s low level monotone came across relaxed and cool on the radio, very prime ministerial. Michael Ignatieff sounded shrill and pissy. Jack Layton was reasonable and friendly. Gilles Duceppe sounded funny.
On TV, Harper looked as washed out as he sounded, greyer than ever. Was he wearing pink lipstick? It seemed that way but that might have been because there was so little colour anywhere else on his face. The glasses looked too small, like they were borrowed from his aunt. The shiny lapel pin was very Jay Leno. He steadfastly refused to look at his opponents throughout the debate, addressing only the camera, which was creepy. He kept that phony debate smile in check as if the impulse had been cut out of his brain.
Layton looked good and debated, as Kennedy would have said, “with vigga” throughout the two hour deal, helping to dispel any health concerns. The cane by his podium (Jacko recently underwent hip surgery) was a nice badass touch. Stuck well back in the polls, he loosened up and went for it and pulled Iggy’s pants down at times even further than Harpers.

As a result, Iggy didn’t appear quite as tailored, his tie crooked and jacket less starched, like he was late for some Harvard lecture. His good suit didn’t come back for you or from the cleaners. Tall and gangly behind the podium, he could pass for Lincoln if he’d worn a stove pipe hat and bad beard. His best moments–when he wasn’t cramming in too many over coached sound bites–were his spirited one-on-one attacks on Harper, who was wise to back off that reckless two man debate suggestion. What sounded shrill on the radio seemed more agreeable and passionate on TV.
Gilles Duceppe wore a killer suit and tie and looked like he just stepped out of Korys on the Danforth. With that searing voice and those wild blue peepers, plus that low, Joe Fraser stance, he comes on like Cloris Leachman’s character from Raising Hope–you know, nuts. Jean Chretien, choking a guy crazy. His rant about how Harper will register cars and dogs but not guns was, however, gold.

The set looked like it was picked up half off at IKEA. They should just use the set from Deal or No Deal Canada with the big Maple Leaf on the floor. The models with the suitcases could still stand behind them and open up the cases now and then to show how much money all the promises will cost Canadians.
Steve Paikin, who makes more money than any of these guys, did a good job refereeing and sticking to the schedule. Too bad no real network could ever afford him.
I tweeted during the debate and that may be the radio/TV test of the future. It was fun tracking others in on the #db8, from Rick Mercer (“I think Iggys battery just rebooted mid sentence”) to Kevin Newman to Michael Moore to banished Green Party leader whatshername.
One of Moore’s observations: “140 chrctr CanadianPM debate sumry: Should we b more like U.S.–more guns, less health care? Privatize services? Tax breaks 4 rich?” he also joked that “Justin Bieber sang a song at the mid-way point. Also, all candidates picked up after themselves.”
Tweeting gives a real time read on how the whole debate deal goes down, and that may someday be a vote cincher. Everything moves faster now. The next two days of spin could be old news if you already sorted this out with your #FF’s on line.

Leave a Reply