Last night, I attended my first political debate ever. It was for the leadership race of the newly formed United Conservative Party. I even dressed up for the event sporting a snazzy blue and white maxi-dress that resembled the logo (sadly, peri-menopause hot flashes combined with lion frizz hair made me look like a flush & frizzy blob last night). Not really having any connections & being a general nobody, I demurely walked down the hallway. I thought it wise to pick up a few campaign buttons to blend in the crowd, like camouflage. What I didn't realize is that I would choose to sit what became the Jason Kenney fan club section, the one campaign I didn't have a button for. D'oh! I initially sat alone, and that stayed that way throughout the debate with nobody approaching me to chat (although maybe wearing the Jean and Schweitzer buttons in the Kenney ghetto wasn't the way to make friends.)
My goal wasn't so much to hear about policy. Policy minutiae bores me.
|Me listening to policy.|
My observations of each candidate:
The good: Presentation wise, Doug was clearly the most comfortable in public speaking in a way that doesn't scream polished politician. His hand gestures were natural. He was Obama-esque in the way he presented himself. His thoughts on social issues, particularly GSA's, is exactly correct. Let's face it, we don't live in a world where All in The Family is the hot new show, and where AM GOLD & American Bandstand are the only ways to hear music. Doug best represents that shift in many ways when it comes to conservatism and social issues.
I also want to point out that while he didn't necessarily win the applause-o-meter race, when he spoke on social issues and GSA's and youth, there were a lot of heads nodding in agreement in the Kenney section, and indeed the whole room. That was something you wouldn't observe if you were simply tuning in online.
The not-so-good: For all the progressive stances on social issues, he is incredibly rigid to small "c" fiscal theories. He's even more a hard-assed fiscal conservative then the other guys in the room, which kind of surprised me and challenged my notion of him. I think this rigidity lends itself to the feeling that he wouldn't be flexible on issues where leadership demands the flexibility, even if the ideas are worthy of consideration. In many ways, he kind of reminds me of a laid-back version of Derek Fildebrandt. (Disclaimer: unlike many, I actually like Derek personally and this isn't a slag on him). Derek Fildebrandt is a Libertarian, and I'm not sure he would ever stray from that theory. To the same extent, I can't see Doug straying from the fiscal theory he ascribes to.
The good: Maybe I went in with pre-conceived notions about him built up by his opponents, but when it came to presentation, I found him...dare I say it...warm? Friendly? He clearly is a career politician and it shows. He knows how to work a crowd, say the things they want to hear, and is not short of sound bites and platitudes. He comes off as by far the most knowledgeable about pretty much every situation. He lives and breathes politics and that came off clearly. There were some points where I actually agreed with him, and I kept waiting for the rapture to happen in shock of those feelings.
The not-so-good: He's a career politician and it shows, to the point where I felt at most times that he wasn't authentic. Does he even know who he himself is beyond the script? I felt like with the other candidates, I understood who they were and where they came from. With Jason I felt like we got to know who he wants us to know about him. Does he have any depth beyond being a politico 24/7? The *closest* I got to feeling like I knew him on a personal level was when he talked about his father's death. It was at that point when I sat up and really noticed him. For all this talk about him being a populist and a Ralph Klein 2.0, he isn't Ralph in the least. Love him or hate him, Ralph brought a genuine "one of us" authenticity that I don't think Jason has the capability of bringing or being. He could unite the party, but I'm not sure he could win the election without coming out with dirty hands (that could damage the party irrevocably, especially if he lost).
The good: Umm. Uhhhh. Ummmm. He has an occasional good idea every now and then? Maybe?
The not-so-good: At one point, I tweeted: "Is Jeff Callaway drunk? He sounds like he had a liquid lunch. Campaign Crooner." I was 98% sure he had a few too many pre-debate wines. I mean, never mind his pompous attitude and smarmy responses. Never mind his outright dick comments towards Brian Jean (which garnered boos from even some in the Kenney ghetto where I sat). Does he need an intervention for alcoholism? He stood there with his hand in his pocket (weird!) and even on occasion winked at people in the crowd. He looked like Dean Martin at a Celebrity Roast. Judging by the faint applause in the crowd, he's a pretender. Hell, even Jason Kenney at one point gave him a "dude, WTF" glance.
Look, I get it. I used to work in the investment industry, and brokers need a bit of chutzpah and smarmy charm to win clients and sell products. I was surrounded by no shortage of Jeff Callaways' in my career. But he had ZERO leadership qualities to run a party. Less then zero.
The good: I genuinely felt he was sincere. I genuinely felt he was authentic. He was calm. I genuinely felt he would be the type of leader who would be firm but flexible and compassionate. He won the night in many ways, sans the trendy soundbites. He definitely improved upon the debate in Calgary, where I felt watching in online that he was wooden and too composed. He's not a natural politician, but he seems to more open to the real struggles someone like me faces then the theoretical model of how Alberta should look under
The not-so-good: I'm not sure if this big debate style format really works for him as well as smaller town halls and meet-and-greets. I've seen videos of those and he is far more natural and in his element. But in large debates, he at times comes across wooden and robotic. Is that a bad thing? I don't know. But in a format where people like Kenney & Notley shine, he would have to really stretch out of his comfort zone to match them on a consistent basis. And of the four, judging by the atmosphere in the Kenney ghetto I sat in, will he be able to unify the party? Maybe, maybe not. But his style I think would appeal to general Albertans more to win a general election without damaging the party.
What surprised me was how much energy was in the room. Online, I sit there in my pj's in total indifference. At the actual debate, even on topics I didn't care about, I was clapping like I was at a revival. I get why people go to these things. And quite honestly, I think everyone should go to at least once. The topics take on different layers when you are in the audience, feeding off of other people's responses and reactions.
I don't think the broad stroke policy differences were really that vast, but at the same time, there were distinct differences in the finer details.
It's clear that the two front-runners are Brian Jean and Jason Kenney. You can tell by the reaction in the room. I thought the reactions to both candidates were fairly split, despite what media reports say. The both come with pros & cons, but I think the decision for members will come down to what the end game is for them personally.
Myself, because I was focusing on leadership qualities more than policy, I walked away feeling like Brian Jean was my guy. It's a gut feeling sometimes. (Edited to add: I feel he can appeal to the grassroots, where as Jason will only appeal to a patch of grass that can buy better fertilizer). Y'all can make your own decision.
In post-debate conversations with a few friends I met up, what became clear is that people are ready to move on and start talking party policy and getting ready for the general election, regardless of who wins. I walked away with the feeling that despite the differences, most of the membership will put aside their differences and rally behind whoever wins, even if they have to plug their nose to do so.
The best parts of the evening was meeting some quality people I knew online and forming friendships...finding out that despite how others portray their ideological opponents, most in the crowd were down-to-earth and nice people who don't look or act any different then my friends on the left...that politics can be fun and exciting...that it's OK to agree and disagree on policy even in your own party...and that it's important to get involved.
I hope to see more progress on social issues, despite the want by the leadership candidates to avoid addressing them head on, even if the feeling by some that the views of the party about these issues are unfair. Maybe so, but some are. Deal with it.
If you've made it this far without nodding off, congrats! I hope I provided a different perspective on things, one that isn't burdened by the baggage of long-standing grievances or tribalism perspectives.
I welcome your comments (but will delete anybody who acts like a dick. My blog, my rules).