Friday, April 16, 2010

Learning from Reagan's Debates

Last night's tepid but historic televised debate between Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown potentially began a new tradition in British electoral politics. As the first of its kind, the only precedents available to pundits and commentators have been the US presidential debates of the last fifty years. In general, these have featured in the UK media as simple lists of memorable blunders and one-liners, but Domonic Sandbrook in the New Statesman took a closer look at the single example of Reagan vs. Carter in 1980.

Both Carter's and Reagan's performances offered lessons for the party leaders - but all in matters of style and presentation:
In many ways, the Reagan-Carter clash was a reminder of everything that is wrong with televised debates: their fixation with personality rather than policy, their obsession with the image rather than the word, their emphasis on the individual rather than the party.
As Sandbrook suggests, it is also unique for being vaguely memorable and, because it was held so close to the election, politically consequential. Last night did not seem to match it in either sense unless Clegg's supposed victory and bland but strangely celebrated performance actually translates into solid votes for the Liberal Democrats. Otherwise, the better comparison will be the Reagan vs. Anderson debate which occured well over a month before the election, elevated John Anderson and sustained his high poll ratings, but did not prevent his candidacy being squeezed out by the two main contenders come November.

No comments:

Post a Comment