Saturday, September 27, 2008

Don't Count on the Knock-Out Blow

As certainly as Canadian media mistake coverage of polls for coverage of elections, and construct shop-worn narratives that characterize election campaigns as "horse races," it is just as certain that they itch to narrate the election debates as though they were "boxing matches."

Election debates, particularly the Canadian variety, generally make lousy television. Except for the most addicted political junky, and the wankiest policy wonk, these debates are valium to the viewer. So, yes, the T.V. pundits and commentators can be expected the start speculating about the "knock-out blow." Rex Murphy sardonically explores this fantasy in his Globe column, "A Little Cut and Thrust, Please":

Our debates have no flow, no encounter. "Smart" comebacks against all eventualities have been prepared by communications hirelings. Every leader has a bag of just-in-case prefab one-liners, hoping to reprise the most overvalued moment in the history of Canadian debates, Brian Mulroney's baritone bellow of, "You had an option, sir, you could have said 'no.' "

John Turner was nailed before he went in. He had okayed a number of last-minute Trudeau patronage appointments roughly equal to the population of Mississauga. There was no way he could not have been nailed. A stick with a mouth painted on it would have nailed Mr. Turner.

If anybody "knocked out" Mr. Turner it wasn't Mr. Mulroney, it was Pierre Trudeau. He constructed the haymaker. Mr. Mulroney mailed it over.

Rex Murphy has a point here. Turner's campaign may have been slayed not by Marc Antony but by Brutus. Still, the famous clip -- ending with John Turner's face turning flash white and his body language becoming rigor mortis rigid -- played over and over again throughout the remainder of the 1984 campaign.

Well, I'm going with a different narrative construction. During this week's debate, I'm not going to be looking for the knock-out blow. I'm going to be looking for the wedgie.

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