The Great (Sort Of ) Debate

The word for debate in Spanish is debate. But that doesn't mean that last Tuesday's two-hour television program actually included any real sparring. With the exception of a few digs, the event was more like a series of monologues, delivered into a camera.

Joining front-runners Andres Manuel López Obrador and Felipe Calderón were Roberto Madrazo, Roberto Campa and Patricia Mercado. The latter two candidates held such minor roles, they wouldn't have even made it onto the stage in a U.S. contest. Candidates were given the topics in advance and stood more than 5 feet apart on stage, giving the sense they were in separate studios, or perhaps even separate states.

For all of our complaining in the U.S. about scripted political debates, this one left me yearning for that marvelous moment in St. Louis in 2000 when Al Gore strode across the stage to within breathing distance of George W. Bush and declared: "My turn."

Even with the format, the candidates managed to deliver a few attacks.

López Obrador temporarily broke from his "man of the people" schtick for the debate, getting fancied up in a suit and yellow tie (his campaign color). On the campaign trail, the beefy, white-haired former mayor typically appeals to the common man in rolled-up shirt sleeves.

AMLO often makes the point that "the immigration problem," as U.S. officials call it, is really a domestic dilemma for Mexico. He used his opening statement to take a swipe at Fox (which is really the same thing as taking a swipe at Calderón).

Calderón -- short, bespectacled, and looking far more comfortable in suit and tie -- took a more methodical approach to the evening, addressing many of the topics with three- and five-point proposals. At one point, he asked López Obrador where he planned to find money to pay for the myriad social programs he has proposed. But after about a half hour, he too decided to mix it up a bit, chastising López Obrador for rising crime rates in Mexico City.

More video:
Calderón on Obrador | Calderón on Immigration | López Obrador on Immigration | Madrazo's Closing Statement

The increasingly cranky tenor prompted AMLO to complain in the debate about the "la guerra sucia" or "dirty war" waged against him (The Economist, subscription required) on radio and television.

If the press coverage is any indication (and it may not be, but more on that later), the debate and campaign are big news in Mexico. All of the major networks aired the debate live, without commercials, and followed it with talking heads galore providing instant reaction.

Mexican political consultants, following the time-honored tradition of their American compadres, had played the expectations game to the hilt prior to the debate. Heading into the prime time session, talking heads argued AMLO needed to stay cool,
while Calderón had to soften his rough conservative edges. In the end, more pundits gave a slight victory to Calderón, but in reality, the debate was a draw.

The morning after, Reforma devoted two full pages of newsprint to the pundits, including a few special guest analysts you might recognize (registration required for Reforma).

My favorite was Francisco Calderón, who summed it up in three words. For Calderón (no relation): ganó, or winner. AMLO: perdió, lost. And poor Madrazo: adiós.

By |  June 12, 2006; 12:14 PM ET  | Category:  Campaign Conexión
Previous: Mexican Elections, Off With a Bang. Literally. | Next: Antojitos: Seeking Symbols

Blogs That Reference This Entry

TrackBack URL for this entry:


© 2006 The Washington Post Company