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Stateside With Rosalea: The Recall Debate

Stateside with Rosalea

The Recall Debate

8.45pm Wednesday, 24 September

Well, possums. I've just been watching the much vaunted one-and-only debate between the five top candidates in the California Recall election. Decided I'd have the experience in a sports bar / focus group kind of setting, with the usual bunch of polisci and journalism students from many political persuasions and ethnic groups.

And what fun there was to be had! The debate moderator called Arianna Huffington "Ms. Camejo", and Cruz Bustamante "Governer Schwarzenegger". People talked over top of one another. At one point the moderator (Stan Statham, CEO of the California Broadcasters Association) had to remind the studio audience that they weren't watching Comedy Central, and at another that if they wanted to boo or applaud they could pay $20 to the appropriate authorities for a permit and go do it out in the carpark.

In short, it was a great debate, yet the format was so controversial that the Association is soliciting email comments from the audience as to whether they want to see future political debates use the same format. In an after-game wrap-up at the venue where I watched the debate on a big-screen telly, some earnest young gun opined that it was "reminiscent of Jerry Springer" because four people were talking at the same time. Well, which four people, Sonny Jim? Doesn't that tell you something in itself?

Asked who was the winner, if anyone, one member of my focus group audience said that probably Gray Davis was the winner because the debate's format made it look like a Tower of Babel would be let loose in Sacramento if any of those five were elected. Many opinions surfaced about what the hell was going on with Arnold and Arianna: "He seems to be going for the misogynist vote," said one person; "She was just being the sacrificial fly to make him look bad, divide the Republican vote, and give a boost to Bustamanate," said another.

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Huffington was just hilarious: "Okay Arnold, let's see who can speak louder in a foreign accent," she said on about the tenth occasion he kept talking over the top of her. "We got advance notice of what you'd say from the New York Times," was her reply when he made some quip about driving his Hummer through the holes in her argument.

Cruz Bustamante sailed over top of anyone speaking over him by saying, "Yes, yes" in a resigned sort of way and waiting till he could quietly have his turm. "Equal opportunity doesn't come from tolerance; it comes from acceptance," he said in response to a question about the collection of racial data by government agencies. He's also going to "make sure our environment doesn't fall into the abyss" - raising new fears of a major land subsidence along the western seaboard.

Tom McClintock, earnest and experienced, referred to the Four Horsemen that had driven business away from California: workers' comp, taxation, litigation, and regulation. He painted a picture of some Great Migration of businesses and industries fleeing eastward from California to Nevada and Arizona to set up shop, but his eyes were a little too (literally) shifty for such a vision to be taken seriously as anything more than one he was watching on the inside of his forehead.

While we're on the physical attributes, Arnold Schwarzenegger's hair and eyebrows were freshly dyed and his sausage-like index finger was pumped up to the max. "I need a lot of help," he said in his closing remarks - a comment that came second in roar-value on the Laughometer where I was only to the moderator's comments after one of his name gaffes that "I'm gonna have to lower my meds".

Peter Camejo pointed out that he's being excluded from the next debate, being run by the League of Women Voters, but managed to get in many of the Greens' policy platforms at every opportunity while still "treating the other candidates with respect" by not joining in the four-way shoutfest. He was probably somewhat undermined by the tags that NBC11 put up as graphics when he was talking about how to balance the state budget: "Never held elective office. Ran for president as a Socialist in 1976. Financial Investment Adviser."

All in all a most instructive little evening, particularly my newfound knowledge that all these politically savvy young people perceive of a robust debate - the type you take for granted Down Under - as something scary and unpleasant and not informative in and of itself.

What the hell - politics is just a parlour game in the United States anyway.


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