Anyone watching the unfolding drama of the nomination process in American politics no doubt finds a number of elements striking, whether or not one lives there. Like it or not, whoever emerges will be the most powerful leader of the western world. Hopefully, voter reason will reign during the elimination process, working through omnipresent framing by pervasive media and behind-the-scenes political machinations.
Part of the intrigue for those of us interested in communications lays in the ‘show’, namely the debates and ‘town hall’ broadcasts on networks such as CNN.
These two formats are quite different, notably how they impact the manner in which the candidates are exposed to the public. Some candidates seem to fare better in one than the other. This is somewhat recognized by the ‘expert analysts’, often party apologists, commenting on events. This latter element is particularly of note to those of us used to the comparatively more genteel approach of, for example, Canadian political reporting. Indeed, the wars of words involving candidates are often carried subsequently into panel critiques by these partisans.
Here are some observations of ‘show’ behaviours exhibited, and consequences resulting:
- Thanks to the often forlorn efforts of moderators, getting air-time in the debate format clearly benefits the most persistently obnoxious candidates; conversely, more polite or patient participants cannot count on fair, let alone equal, time
- Even initial impressions of the candidates’ qualities in debates are not equally afforded, in that early on they may face quite differently posed questions, or may have the impact infringed upon by others who twist or misrepresent what they say
- The extent of supporter representation in the debate audience can play a role in the arrogance or discomfiture of participants, like the make up of those on the ground encouraging someone on a high-rise ledge either to safety or to jump
- The ‘town hall’ setting is really a hybrid between a formal meeting and the old style gathering from which it gets its name; the presence of cameras, along with media, scrapes at spontaneity on the air, although generally the candidates’ dress code is a little more relaxed, along with their less competitive demeanor, which helps ease the atmosphere, in which the crowd also seems more diverse and less polarized
- The opportunity to get to know personal attributes and idiosyncrasies of participants emerges in the ‘town hall’; the moderator has more latitude to draw these empathetic, human qualities out in the more measured discourse: for example, in this past Thursday’s Republican event, one candidate, heretofore seeming to be rather staid, revealed how at age eighteen he not only squeezed out a meeting with the sitting U.S. President (albeit Nixon), but managed to have it expanded on the fly from five to twenty minutes, and that he has been attempting to have the surviving members of rock music’s iconic Pink Floyd reunite; another Republic candidate revealed he only sleeps three to four hours per night, and has never smoked or had a drink of liquor in his life, the combination of which may be contributors to his bombastic and scatter-gun, vocal proclivities
The cumulative spotlights of these events help the public by comparing personas, but also by peeling below to reveal personalities, of those who would be king be it in America or elsewhere.
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