Governors race: Moral fuming vs. Bill Clinton flair
By DANIEL STURM
Were pleased to offer you the opportunity to cover the first
debate between Michigans gubernatorial candidates, wrote
Wood-TVs News Director, Patty McGettigan. I and roughly 50 other
journalists were the only guests at the televised debate between the
Democrat Jennifer Granholm and the Republican Dick Posthumus at the
stations studio in Grand Rapids on Monday evening.
Taking my seat in the dark basement room, with media colleagues to my
left and right, I reflected on a situation that had taken on a surreal
quality. The voters stood outside, holding up their poster signs, and
I sat in the basement as part of an exclusive audience of political
journalists who watched the two candidates live from (yes)
a small television screen. Well, the people outside didnt seem
ready to conquer the Bastille. Never mind. And, after all, they were
only missing out on some mediocre snacks, and there were no sofas for
real boob tubing, anyway.
four celebrity-class journalists began to question the candidates
positions on taxes, education and health. Jennifer Granholm impressed
me as having the kind of Bill Clinton/Tony Blair flair that makes you
know that shes smart, but well, that youre not dumb either.
Dick Posthumus energy seemed to move in the other direction. At
the beginning of the debate, when asked about his stand on abortion,
he immediately fell into attack mode, calling his opponent an extremist
for supporting late-term abortions and taxpayer-funded abortions. He
closed his statement with moral fume: It is about life!
Of course, what Posthumus did not point out was that as attorney general
and acting on Gov. John Englers order, Granholm wrote a legal
brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Nebraskas partial-birth
Granholm followed an analytical style of rhetoric throughout the evening.
She responded to the subject of abortion by explaining why she believed
abortion did not contradict her identity as a Roman Catholic. She said
one shouldnt legislate Jewish faith, Christian faith or Muslim
faith for women. The Unites States is not a theocracy. Then
shifting into an ethical discourse, Granholm accused Posthumus for opposing
abortion in cases of rape and incest.
Language, body and otherwise
Its not hard to play with statistics or dramatize your voice,
but even with the best coach, I imagine manipulating facial expressions
must be difficult. I always wondered if Germans would have elected Hitler
if more of them had seen his terrible facial expressions on television.
Unfortunately, the vast majority only had access to radio.
Granholm, once an aspiring actress, won the body language round of this
televised battle. As she talked, she sorted her thoughts for the audience
with synchronized hand movements, which seemed to strengthen the rationale
of her arguments. She smiled to be nice and kept a friendly facial expression
even on the tough questions. Posthumus didnt seem to have the
same mastery of image, so important in this televised virtual reality:
his face frozen in a super-friendly expression seconds before his statements
ended as if preparing for a photo shoot and waiting for the camera flash.
Polls say smile, you know. The voters/audience outside the studio likes
it when politicians smile.
Rhetoric is another interesting point. Posthumus rarely ended his statements
on a positive note, whereas Granholm almost always did. Posthumus instead
used rhetorical questions to disparage his rivals reputation,
such as: Who is the real Jennifer Granholm?, or Who
is telling the truth? or simply interjections such as Jennifer,
Jennifer, Jennifer as if to say Tsk, tsk, tsk, naughty
girl. It would have been funny if Granholm had responded, Dick,
Dick, Dick, but I imagine thats not her style.
She stuck with criticizing her opponents agenda and elaborating
what she wanted to do in the future if elected. She discussed examples
of how other states had managed to solve certain problems, such as lowerinf
prescription costs (Maine). By rhetoric, too, she seemed to outmatch
There was one situation where Granholm clearly became defensive
and looked nervously at her notes. This was when Posthumus questioned
the depth of her idealism in fighting big business interests. He mentioned
her ties to Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara, with whom she served
as lead attorney during a time when he was accused of granting no-bid
contracts to friends, family and political contributors, and accused
Granholm of not having called for an investigation into county contracting
practices. Posthumus used the word corruption. Granholm
rejected this accusation, saying shed forwarded the case to Michigan
State Police. She called the issue a distraction raised
by Republicans and the media.
The shows over.
After the show the live coverage immediately switched to Cincinnati,
where President Bush said that the Iraqi regime is the single gravest
danger confronting humanity. Some of my colleagues stopped counting
the Jennifers in Posthumus statements, in order to watch
the presidential speech. The rest of us were led upstairs, to speak
with the candidates. In a post-televised moment, Granholm commented:
Unfortunately, the question about war wasnt asked.
She also criticized that none of the journalists asked questions on
environmental issues. To liven up the next debate, on Oct. 15, perhaps
the Economic Club of Detroit should invite the Green Party candidate,
Douglas Campbell. When the Green candidate appeared (univited) at an
environmental forum in Brighton, state troopers handcuffed him and hauled
him out by his arms and legs a different body language altogether.
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