What we learned from Leaders Debate: 'Politicians on the hunt for votes are like squabbling children'
I’ve always felt that political debates are way over-rated. Not as entertainment – they’re usually pretty good craic – but as a means of choosing who to vote for. Debates don’t really tell you all that much about a candidate or party, do they?
Apart from which one of them is, well, good at debating. And what does that matter? It’s a completely useless skill in the real world. Indeed, it’s a redundant skill most of the time even in the strange, rarified confines of politics.
Still, the big debate will forever remain a part of election campaigns. The lobbing of a well-aimed grenade of cutting wit or cogent argument at some poor sap on the other side has long been a prized skill among the ruling classes.
Personally, I blame it on the fact that political types tend to be, as children, the sort of annoying, overachieving mini-Maggie Thatchers who are into debating and public speaking. These prissy little gits then bring forward their verbal fencing abilities to adulthood, at which stage they enter politics and run their opponents ragged with clever epigrams that Oscar Wilde himself would envy.
Or not, as the case may be. Which brings us to tonight’s first live leaders’ debate, broadcast on both TV3 and Newstalk. (Little-known fact: they call that a “simulcast”.)
The leaders of the four biggest parties – Enda Kenny, Micheal Martin, Joan Burton and Gerry Adams – went mano-a-mano (and a-womano in Joan’s case), moderated by Colette Fitzpatrick and Pat Kenny.
Interestingly, Pat actually looked more like an election candidate than any of them; albeit a dashing, “Silver Fox” running for the Oval Office in a Steven Seagal movie. (That’s a compliment, obviously.)
We had introductory spiels from our wannabe models – I mean candidates for Taoiseach, of course – then they debated issues such as tax/economics/financial stuff, the health service/non-service, crime, abortion and housing.
Money, health and housing were indescribably boring. I’m sorry if that offends you, but they were. Only an irredeemable political wonk – the kind of weirdo who sits up all night watching CNN coverage of “caucuses” and “primaries” – could even begin to understand any of this stuff, never-mind find it interesting.
Things heated up nicely during the crime debate, though. Understandably so, given Gerry Adams’ “interesting” back-story as someone who definitely was never a member of a certain quasi-legal guerrilla organisation which has more fingers in various criminal pies than ten Little Jack Horners.
Then it was back to dreary gobbledygook, as a discussion on the Eighth Amendment descended into the usual waffle and delaying tactics in the hope that the original question would be forgotten. Except for Adams, who in fairness gave a clear, unambiguous answer.
Colette asked Enda if talking about this subject made him uncomfortable. He said no – him not talking about this subject certainly made me uncomfortable.
We finished with all candidates being asked to forecast who’d form the next government. Amazingly, they all predicted that their own party would be involved! Who could have seen that one coming?
The main thing I took from this is that politicians on the hunt for votes are like squabbling children. They literally never stop talking across each other, sniping, yapping, throwing out insults, interrupting, sniping some more. Colette and Pat often seemed, through no fault of their own, more like exasperated primary school teachers than debate moderators.
At one stage Enda snapped to Micheal, “You always do this – you keep talking.” It could have been any of them saying this, though, to any of them. It could have been the hosts. Or you at home.
Like wind-up toys, they just keep talking – without actually saying much of anything.
PS Don’t forget to vote.