Monday, December 05, 2011

On the first NDP leadership debate.

I'm not going to spend much time dissecting the first NDP leadership debate. (Note that I skipped the French portion; poor ol' monolingual me doesn't much care for CPAC translation.)

No one should expect a ton from these debates. There won't be any major policy announcements in that sort of venue. (For what it's worth, I haven't looked at the candidates' policies in much depth yet, and probably won't until closer to the vote.)

There also won't be much mixing it up. Libs and Cons may treat the leadership like bloodsport, but the NDP won't. For one, the NDP leader doesn't have nearly as much power within the party as the Liberal or Conservative leader. Lower stakes means less motivation to beat each other up. For two, the candidates seem to mostly like each other -- there's no factionalization or possibility of in-fighting destabilizing the party.

So, really, the debates are kind of inside baseball. A chance for party members to see what the candidates are like when they speak in public, to the camera, to each other. In other words, how they stack up as possible leaders.

What I will do, then, is give my impressions of the candidates as leaders.

My top tier, right now, is Topp, Cullen, Singh and Mulcair. They came off as potential leaders with good ideas.

A lot of folks are saying that Topp came off as wooden. Maybe so; but his intelligence and policy grasp impressed me. He may drop off my list based on how he does in the remaining debates; he really does need to grow more comfortable with speaking to people, not just to other wonks and party insiders.

Cullen surprised me. I'm deeply concerned about his "cooperation" riff with the Liberals, but he's very easy and charming in the debate. Also, he'd be a wonderful contrast with Harper.

Singh came out of nowhere for me. I expected him to be an also-ran, but he struck me as competent, forceful and dynamic. He could drop off the list, too; it depends on whether he has more to say than continually hitting the "small business" line.

Mulcair -- well, no one should be surprised that he's in the top tier. My concerns with him are policy-based, like with Cullen. I suspect he secretly wants to make the NDP into something like the 60's/70's Liberal Party, and I'm not on board with that. But he was composed and personable, which, like with Cullen, would be good contrasts with Harper.

My second tier are candidates who had good moments, but also awkward ones. There were also some odd or mixed messages -- over-selling a message, for example ("new politics", "jobs"). This is Ashton, Dewar and Nash.

Ashton came out really strong, but I think her relative inexperience showed through by the end. She seemed like she ran out of things to say and had to keep returning to her slogans.

Dewar seemed really stiff. I was disappointed, honestly. His infrastructure/jobs plan, what I've seen of it, is very interesting. But he didn't sell it very well, and he ran away from engaging with Topp on the spending issue -- that is, would a Dewar NDP endorse deficit spending in the short-term in order to benefit in the long-term.

Nash also seemed quite stiff. She's got a good message, but I'm not sure she's the one to sell it. Women in politics don't get a fair shake generally, and older women get it worse (witness all the attacks Hillary Clinton has suffered since the early 90's.) And given how awkward Nash seemed to me, I suspect the Conservative attack machine would eat her alive.

My bottom tier is the remaining two, obviously: Chisholm and Saganash. These are candidates who seemed hesitant or unsure of what they thought.

With regard to Chisholm, I obviously didn't see the French portion, so I'm not commenting on that. But even in English, he was stuttering and hesitating. I'm not sure if this is just a delivery thing or genuinely not knowing what he wanted to say -- but it certainly seemed like the latter.

As for Saganash, he just seemed out of place. He was hesitant as well, stuttered a lot, and really had a hard time with the debate format -- fitting his answers into the time, dealing with the cameras and the other candidates, etc. So far, not leadership material, from my point of view.

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