Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Blowing Smoke and Mirrors

Chuck Redpath and Sam Cahnman faced-off in debate on the Jim Leach Show this morning. I didn’t get to hear the entire program, but from what I heard,the two candidates seem to be on the same side of many of the issues, save for the open primary.

There’s another similarity between the two candidates; as orators they both make George Bush sound like Daniel Webster. I don’t know where these gentlemens' careers will take them, but I don’t see any keynote speeches at the DNC in their future.

Before I proceed with this critique on the communication skills of these two candidates, let me confess that I am not particularly given to verbal virtuosity. In speech, I stumble over words with the best of them. That’s why I’m a blogger and not a podcaster. Nevertheless, I do have a keen ear for language and have studied communications extensively, and besides, everybody is free to be a critic. For example, you don’t have to be an actor to state, with a significant degree of credibility, that Keanu Reeves’ performance in "Speed" lacked the dexterity and vitality that one would expect from an actor who isn’t really, really stoned.

Redpath and Cahnman fared all right in the question and answer portion of the debate, although there was a decided lack of vigor in their deliberation and they didn’t really sell themselves or their ideas with much gusto. There were also no sparks, or witty rejoinders, or verbal daggers – none of the things that can make a debate good fun. That would both do well to study Al Sharpton. Say what you will about the good reverend, but he does know how to turn it on whenever a microphone crackles in his presence and in my view he is a welcome addition to any debate, even if he isn't running.

Of the two candidates, Redpath comes across as the less polished. He seems to be at battle with himself when conversing in a public forum. His is a salty tongue by nature, not uncommon among northenders.* This is acceptable at the aldermanic level, where Frank Kunz’s blue-tinted opinions have earned him the reputation as the council’s straight shooter. But Redpath has obviously been advised to tone it down now that he is playing to a larger audience and his attempts at self-censoring disrupt the flow of his oratories. On Sam Madonia’s show last week, he apologized profusely after dropping an a-bomb which only drew attention to the matter, and made him sound a bit sappy to boot.

Where both candidates failed speech class was during their closing remarks, the segment that afforded them the most opportunity to prepare. It was painfully obvious that both men were reading verbatim from a script. Their attempts to sound colloquial were thwarted by the unnatural inflections in their recitations. At one point, Cahnman addressed his opponent by saying, “Hey, Chuck” and it was easy to imagine that at that moment he made a split-second glance at Redpath before quickly looking back down to the script lest he lose his place.

Redpath may have deviated from his script at least once. At one point he suggested that a particular political columnist has been in intimate contact with his (Redpath’s) viscera through a rather evasive, and hopefully metaphorical, probing. Another impromptu remark may have come when Redpath promised voters that he wouldn’t “blow smoke and mirrors.” Out of respect for a fellow northender, I’ll assume the comment was made off-the-cuff and that he didn’t mix that metaphor on paper before reading it on air.

The verbal deficiencies of the candidates were made even more glaring by having a skilled public speaker such as Leach presiding over the debate. Imagine Lenny and Carl from the Simpson’s fielding questions from Peter Jennings and, well, I guess it wasn’t that bad. I do wish Leach would have snatched the prepared closing remarks from the candidates’ hands and demanded that they speak extemporaneously, but I suppose that it isn’t a moderator’s duty to make the debaters seem more genuine.

It used to be that politicians could be counted upon to be silver-tongued devils who would lure voters with their slick talk and then go back on their word once in office. I suppose we are better off with honest politicians** who lack the ability to deceive us with verbal cunning. I just can't imagine that Redpath's and Cahnman's performance today inspired too many independent voters to pick up a democratic ballot in the primary.

*As a native northender, I have a pass to make such pronouncements.

**If that is indeed the case with these two.


Anonymous said...

Hard to imagine Poe being the most articulate candidate in the race.

Chuck showed on the Leach program before that he has no grasp of the issues whatsoever.

Can't see what Chuck brings to the table. Alderman, Schmalderman

Anonymous said...

I think Chuck did face the issues. I don't recall any question that he didn't answer.

I was glad that Chuck didn't react to Sam's shots at him.

As for Sam..it would surprise me if any woman votes for him.

Anonymous said...

After reading this I am reminded of the Mexican cabdriver who gave me a ride to the airport in 1985 the day after the devastating earthquake that killed thousands. He said it was God's vengeance for a society that had shunned good in pursuit of evil...."like Sonora and Gomorrah."