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The Political Leader’s TV Debate Rules of Engagement

June 6th, 2014 by Michael Dyet

Hmmm, does anyone really win when political leaders go toe to toe on television?

Earlier this week I tuned into the provincial leaders TV debate. I do this in the lead-up to every election campaign, albeit reluctantly, in the interest of making an informed choice on Election Day. Sadly, as I’ve said before, it is really about deciding which of the leaders I dislike the least.

I’ll be honest. I could only endure an hour of the debate before pulling the plug. Calling it a debate is a disservice to the word. More accurate descriptions come to mind – sandbox squabble, catfight and legalized slander, to name just a few.

The first ten minutes were predictably all about how many knives Hudak and Horvath could plunge in Kathleen Wynn’s back over the gas plant debacle. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of hearing them that beat that drum. It’s old news. Let’s move on.

And please, don’t expect me to believe that a Conservative or NDP government would not have its own share of scandals. Politics and scandals go together like beer and pizza.

An aside: Can someone explain to me why Wynn’s handlers told her not to look at her opponents when responding to the scandal questions? Her expression seemed to say: Maybe if I pretend that they’re not there, they’ll spontaneously burst into flames.

On a lighter note, I do find some amusement in the tactics that get employed in these debates. I’m sure that there is a Political Leader’s TV Debate Rules of Engagement Manual with hard and fast rules such as:

Always thank the interviewer or constituent for their question and maintain that the issue is exactly what you wanted to talk about and exactly what your platform is built around.

Never ever answer a negative question directly. Deflect, deflect, deflect like your political life depends on it.

Counter attack at every opportunity. If you get your teeth into your opponent on an issue where they are vulnerable, hang on like a rabid pit bull.

If you’re the leader of the ruling party, blame everything bad on the party in power before you. Imply that you inherited a tsunami disaster that you are still cleaning up.

If you’re the leader of the official opposition, be smug, self-righteous and indignant with just a dash of homespun humility at opportune moments.

If you’re the leader of the minority party, divide and conquer. Periodically, appear to side with each of your opponents until they lower their guard momentarily. Then go for the jugular.

Be a pulpit pounder for your own platform. Not matter what the question, all answers must spin on the head of a rhetorical pin and lead directly back to your core promises.

Statistics were made to be abused. Twist and torture them at will to suit your argument. You can always claim later that you were misquoted.

Lastly, and most importantly, every campaign promise must be metaphorical in nature with multiple layers of truth and ambiguity. Leave yourself wiggle room to redefine what you really meant when the shit inevitably hits the fan.

~ Michael Robert Dyet is the author of “Until the Deep Water Stills – An Internet-enhanced Novel” – double winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2009. Visit Michael’s website at or the novel online companion at

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