Stage presence spoke louder than words at yesterday’s presidential debate in Huron’s Great Hall. This was the debate we’d all been waiting for. As current USC members snickered amongst each other in the front row, campaign team members of all presidential stripes and a handful of interested voters sat forward in their seats. Spectators quickly transcended their roles as politically involved students to become politically motivated bloodhounds, delighting in the candidates’ every falter.
Unfortunately, few real issues were discussed. Nearing the end of their long drawn-out campaigns, candidates resorted to budget bickering and to defending the relevance of their own past leadership positions.
The voting population’s hunger for intense political conflict can only be fed by an analysis of the pronounced differences in each candidate’s personality and campaign strategy. Campus politics seem to be following the trend that media theorist John B. Thompson calls the “decline of ideological politics.”
Fearnall, McArthur, Ross, and Silver are all admittedly campaigning with similar ideas about how they think the USC should be run. Platforms were a particularly shared resource this year, leaving the four to argue who would in fact be the most inclusive, most approachable, and most willing to reach out to students (or to empower them, depending whether you talked to Ross or Silver).
Thompson notes, “as fundamental disagreements over matters of principle become less pronounced, political parties search for other means by which they can differentiate themselves from one another.”
Instead of debate over the importance of various campus issues, the politics of trust took centre stage last night. And in proving him- or herself most reliable, each candidate played their part in putting on a show.
Fearnall played the role of lovable diplomat, drawing heavily on his feel-good volunteer experience and drowning in a sea of his own hand gestures. He even took a standing ovation after his closing statement, waving amicably at the crowd. However, the home-court hero did lose his friendly demeanor when he entangled himself in petty face-offs with McArthur and Silver.
McArthur desperately grasped at the title of comedian, or perhaps candidate clown. She claimed to “deserve” the role of USC President, all the while defending her identity as an average Western student and behaving increasingly like a petulant child. Her appeal to the non-political, Fall Reading Break-lusting students of Western fell on unsympathetic ears in a roomful of USC-involvement veterans aching to send her to her room.
Ross beamed like a ballerina mid-recital after each answer, golden ponytail swinging with every self-assured head nod. Solemnly silent throughout the other candidates’ open question quarrelling, Ross stood on the moral high ground and was able to defend her ideas to boot. However, her disengagement was followed by the insertion of a brief and sometimes naïve answer to each question when its time limit drew near.
Silver, eloquent as always, acted as any seasoned politician would. He vehemently defended his previous role with the USC and assured his yet unconvinced opponents that USC President isn’t “just another title” he plans to add to his list. In painfully patronizing tones, he targeted fellow candidates with pointedly accusing questions, often having to assure them that he hadn’t meant to stage an attack.
The (circus) elephant in the room was the fact that despite each candidate’s idealistic goal of reaching out to students currently uninvolved with the USC, the would-be presidents are competing for votes among students who are involved already.