Image and comportment matter in politics, whether it’s Howard Dean’s Ballmeresque antics Monday night or Belinda Stronach’s announcement that she was running for leader of the new Conservative Party yesterday. Though her surprisingly moderate policies should have drawn considerable attention — she’s in favour of same-sex marriage, which is something even a lot of Liberals have trouble with — instead the media focus was on how she presented herself. The Toronto Star’s Chantal Hébert focused on Stronach’s flat delivery and lack of French. And here’s the Globe’s Roy McGregor:
[Stronach’s speech] so lacked cadence and a sense of the necessary political rhythms — carefully building, cleverly punching, climbing deliberately to an energizing ending — that it came across more as a Grade 9 oral presentation of one of her former company’s sponsored school essays, “If I were prime minister …”
Personally, I found Stronach painful to listen to, which illustrates the point. Politics is a verbal medium whose main structure is the podium speech. There have been some very good practitioners of the form — Sharon Carstairs is one. And while this skill isn’t called on in public administration — you can be a dreadful speaker but a superb minister, at least in theory — the ability to present your case coherently in politics’s standard format is necessary to getting there in the first place. No one will elect you to anything if they can’t bear to listen to you. How Chrétien ever managed, I’ll never know.