SACRAMENTO — Well, I just finished watching the California recall candidates' debate, and nothing that I witnessed changes my "No" vote on the recall portion of the ballot. Indeed, if there was a winner tonight it was Gray Davis, and he wasn't even there!
The whole format was set up wrong. To begin with, it should have been staged in techno-savvy L.A. instead of Sacramento. This would have insured that the production wouldn't look like Public Access TV. Next, Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his extensive experience as a performer, should have been the moderator not a candidate, thereby anchoring the debate while giving it drama, flair and perhaps even poignancy. As it was, it had none of these things. It reminded me of a dream I once had in which I was reading a book that was so dull, I woke up out of boredom.
Photo courtesy of www.gray-davis.com
Someone should tell Cruz Bustamonte that, with his beautiful baritone voice, he should be a singer, not a politician. His "You don't understand how Sacramento works" mantra when under fire betrays the condescension inherent in professional policy wonks, and like Peter Camejo, he's never met an illegal immigrant he didn't like.
Arianna Huffington is a clever wit and entertaining writer whose influence would actually recede were she to become governor. She's far more useful and instructive right where she is as a columnist and frequent talk-show guest, unencumbered by political partisanship. I liked the fact that she was the only candidate to exhort her opponents to look at the "bigger picture" during the debate, though I must confess I can't help but wonder about the judgement of someone married to a gay man without knowing it.
Peter Camejo sounded beseeching and kept thanking the questioners for their questions. I'm suspicious of too much politeness. Reminds me of Norman Bates.
That leaves Tom McClintock, who appeared the most gubernatorial, well prepared, comfortable and poised. But he is a conservative Republican, and for him to become governor of California would be like putting a saddle on a cow.
All in all, the recall debate was the civic equivalent of lite beer, when what was really needed were straight shots of Jack Daniels! There was no passion, only time-worn lip service; no electricity, only scripted and predictable dialogue. There were all the usual promises that will be broken, and no tough questions demanding tough answers. This made U.N. debates look like barroom brawls! TV test patterns are more interesting to watch! I got the feeling that most of the candidates were first trying to convince themselves that they weren't merely pretenders to the throne. But it appears that they are. So where does that leave us? Probably back where we began, with Gray Davis being reelected governor (again). And won't we feel silly for having put ourselves through this?