I'm a political freak. Election night, for me, is like Super Bowl (without the Doritos commercials, but not without the Doritos). If I could have two TVs going I'd be flipping between 3 or 4 stations watching results come in.
Debate night is like a play off game. I'm glued to the set, waiting for someone to say something that will turn the tide, even if it's against my guy. I like intelligent discourse. Remember a few of the best lines of the last few years of televised debates?
"You had an option, sir" Brian Mulroney to John Turner in 1984. Mr. Turner should never have come back to the patronage issue after he had already deftly maneuvered out of Mulroney's first trap, but for some reason he reopened the subject and Mulroney landed this punch. He'd been waiting.
"Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" Lloyd Bentsen to Dan Quayle in 1988 in the U.S. VP candidate debate. Like Turner, Quayle felt compelled to address a vulnerability; the question of his relative youth and readiness for the Presidency if called upon. Quayle pointed out that John F. Kennedy was about the same age when he became President, and Bentsen delivered the "I knew Jack Kennedy, and Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy" punch, right to the solar plexus. You could actually watch Quayle lose his wind, angry at Bentsen for the cheap shot and at himself, aware he had made the mistake of walking into a rehearsed line, into a well laid trap.
"Can we have it back, please?" Fictional President Jedd Bartlett of The West Wing challenges the fictional Governor of Florida in the Presidential debate to renounce federal association and his state's shared tax revenues with the other 49 states, if he despises federalism so much. You have to see the episode and the campaign episodes leading up to the exchange to fully appreciate it.
Of the three lines quoted, though The West Wing is fiction and obviously scripted, Martin Sheen delivers it as though extemporaneously, unscripted.
In the Ontario Provincial Leaders debate this week, all three tried to score that memorable line, the challengers tried harder than the Premier had to. They failed because they tried. They failed because they were too obviously programmed, scripted, waiting for an opportunity to recite their lines, instead of seeking an opportunity to speak their truth.
We're not that stupid, folks. Give us a real debate. We want to hear you speak with passion from your guts, not from your memory. That's why it's called gutsy - you wonder if you might lose the contents of your stomach in nervous apprehension of working without a safety net.
That's why you're a leader - because you do it anyway. Except our three couldn't be bothered.