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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Iggy and Harper, one on one?

Two white guys in ties

Tricky business, this. What's a good non-partisan guy supposed to do?

Looks like Iggy (14:44 this afternoon) and Harper (16:33) are getting set to drop the gloves. (If anyone's got a screen grab of Harpoon's initial tweet, email me.)

The "consortium's" appalling decision to leave Elizabeth May out of the debate(s), whatever form they take, has consumed a good part of the day's chatter. Nasty and arbitrary, and it needs to be resolved quickly, because the more attention it consumes, the more the focus is diverted from Stephen Harper's record of contempt for Parliament, for the truth, and for Canada. As progressives, that's what we need to concentrate on. (The consortium itself, and the troubling issues it raises, can be part of another post.)

And the mano-a-mano? In all honesty, I'm not sure how to treat it. It's inherently unfair to exclude the other party leaders, but if the noise and cross-talk are reduced, it allows Iggy to do more to highlight #Harperslegacyofshame. It also means there's less scope for him, Layton and Duceppe to go all Curly, Larry and Moe to Harper's benefit. And it also means Harper can't stay in the bubble and keep hiding behind his handlers. On balance, that seems like a worthwhile trade-off.

On the other hand, it also allows Harper to ramp up his shrill coalition fearmongering by framing Iggy as the de facto leader of a combination of parties opposed to the Conservatives. The CBC's Keith Boag did a marvellous bit of public service yesterday by exposing the bullshit behind that fearmongering (and, incidentally, probably demonstrated why Harpobots have such a hate-on for the CBC), but as the Big Lie technique teaches us, the facts don't necessarily matter. Harper's also got to like the idea of not having Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe there to out him as a liar.

Other things to ponder: does having more participants in the debate help Harper, or hurt him? Short answer: it depends. If they take turns attacking him, that's one thing. If they turn on each other, that's another thing. And the less time each one of them has, the more focused their messages and strategies have to be. A tall order, and there's no guarantee that they won't work against each other as much as they work against Harper. A toss-up, I think.

There's no question that a one-on-one format will be easier for the corporate media as well, but I'm not sure that's necessarily a good thing. They'll be able to set it up as a facile narrative that's easily reduced to a two-sided story, but that's doing a disservice to the voters, the country and the truth. Surely we can recognize that the issues we're facing are too complex to that kind of simplistic framing. I don't want to seem sanctimonious (any more than usual), but once again, this is the duty inherent in active and committed citizenship: critical thinking, reflective consideration, and genuine engagement. A narrative that allows corporate-media types to reduce it to a smackdown at centre ice may serve certain interests, but it doesn't do anything for the national discourse.

Moreover, a one-on-one format would serve to validate the artificial and arbitrary exclusion of the other leaders, not just Elizabeth May. While I'm reluctant to help shift the focus onto that and away from the revoltingly authoritarian and hyperpartisan streak characterizing Harper's approach to governing, I can't refuse to acknowledge just how problematic and offensive that is. The "consortium" needs to be held accountable and exposed for the public scorn it deserves. That'll be the subject of another post.

Bottom line, dear friends: I don't know whether a Harpoon/Iggy debate will be good or bad. I don't pretend to be an expert in these matters. We'll have to see how it plays out over the next little while. Comments welcome.

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