Friday, October 03, 2008

Texts and voices

Do leaders speak lines, or do lines speak leaders?

No, Peggy, she didn't "kill." But Sarah Palin did very well, so well that I am now wondering if low expectations had not been deliberately created by the Republican camp. The anonymous McCain official, for example, quoted as saying, "What are we going to do?" after watching Palin in action during a mock press conference and debate--were we all had?

This is not to say that she won the debate, by any means, only that she was not eaten alive, as I for one thought she would be. She was anything but that hapless woman we saw with Kate Couric who couldn't even name a magazine or newspaper that she'd read, and who babbled incoherently when asked about the Wall Street meltdown.

She had been well-prepped, and kept the mental cue-cards in good order. It was disconcerting, mind you, to hear the clash of discourses coming out of her mouth--policy analysis with a lot of folksy dropped g's. Her gaze, meant to look forthrightly into the eyes of America, sometimes looked
merely startled. (Biden's eyes, for the record, seemed a little odd--I can't put my finger on just why.)

But what we really had was a clash of talking points. No direct exchanges were permitted, and both candidates, but particularly Palin, avoided Gwen Ifill's questions and made little set speeches within the times allotted. There were no real "moments," other than Biden's reference to the deaths of his first wife and his child. Palin's "white flag of surrender" comment, referring to the Obama plan to withdraw from Iraq, might have played well in the darker corners of Peoria, but it was overreaching. The undecided CNN diallers in Ohio were unimpressed (@9:43).

Mouths opened, and scripted lines from the war rooms poured out. I think Biden won the debate on sheer knowledge and confidence, delivered in a poised and restrained manner--perhaps a little too restrained, in fact. He'd obviously been gaffe-proofed by the handlers, who weren't about to let Biden be Biden. But Palin's presentation, if not her lines, put her well into the game, and probably firmed up some faltering Republican support.

Here's the debate in full, if you missed it.

Stephen Harper's plagiarism. We all know that politicans don't write their own speeches, and too many don't even think their own thoughts. But the new revelations of plagiarism at J-rad's place this morning have me scratching my head. Not because I am particularly surprised, but because of the comments over there from Harper defenders.

It's as though "leaders" are expected simply to deliver potted messages. I recall a British comic on a radio panel game several years ago saying to a co-panelist: "Don't put words in my mouth--I don't know where they've been." Now we're being told it doesn't matter.

And perhaps it doesn't. Politics these days isn't about leaders sharing their original vision and strategies for achieving what their constituencies want. It's leaders sharing our own thoughts with us: what we already think we know, and what we unthinkingly believe, raising our comfort level by saying, in effect, "I hear ya." So what if we've heard it all before, even in the exact-same words--that's the whole point. The last thing they want is to challenge our complacency and ask us to see the world in a new way.

The plagiarism issue simply reminds us of the degeneracy of political discourse in these post-modern times. Why not copy messages holus-bolus? It's the next logical step, isn't it, now that we're inured to endless distillations and re-distillations of the same political bromides and idées reçues? Think: have you actually heard anything new in the debates here or in the US? Anything at all?


My co-blogger watched the other debate last night. She'll be along shortly to give you her impressions.

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