Give me that old-time politics.

A political era is ending.  The stump speech will soon be a thing of the past.  We used to judge politicians by their ability to give a stump speech.  The name comes from when they found a suitable tree stump for a political orator to stand on while addressing local voters.  These speakers were able to involve the listeners in their oratory and were judged on their ability to enthral, convince and hold their audience.

One of the best of the breed of stump speakers in Ontario, that we knew, was J.J. “Joe” Greene, MP and Minister of Agriculture for the Pearson Government and then Minister of Mines and Resources in the Trudeau Government.  Joe was not as smart as Pearson or Trudeau but give him a simple stand-up microphone and an audience and he could wrap the audience around his little finger.  The world lost a great orator at when Joe died in 1978, at just 58.

Another great orator, in our estimation, was the late Don Jamieson.  A Newfoundland broadcaster who had opposed confederation with Canada, Don served in all the Trudeau Government cabinets before finishing as Minister of External Affairs in 1979.  He was our loyal and proud Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 1983 to 1985.  Other than one particularly corny joke about a manure spreader that he used too often, Don was a delight to listen to.  He was always in demand as a speaker.

We were very impressed with how Michael Ignatieff was coming along last summer when he brought his bus tour to Babel.  He spent the afternoon at a garden party at our provincial MPPs home.  His speech won hearts and minds.   Sure, he was preaching to the choir but there were more than a few of us there who could review the speech for its content, credibility and quality of delivery.  Because the audience was Liberal and interested, it was quite long.  There was a point where it was obvious that he was bridging between two different speeches.  Nobody complained.  It was his audience.

What made the event a stump speech is that it was made without a lectern, without a note and without a teleprompter.  He was talking to that audience about the things that he needed to say to it.   It was a great sales pitch for what he believes is the inclusiveness of the big red tent.  He was selling the breadth and depth of Liberalism.  He succeeded.

It is interesting to note that Justin Trudeau MP is a comer as a stump speaker.  He is good.  When he was here in Babel speaking to supporters, we were comparing him to his father.  His father never was a good stump speaker.  He was too intellectual and needed the stimulus of the audience to really communicate.  Without that stimulus, Pierre Trudeau could be boring.  We will be looking for great things from his son.

But a stump speaker has serious competition today.  We have been seeing it on television news almost every night.  We are into the era of the teleprompter.  Jack Layton was the surprise on this.  He is not that bad a speaker but because of his various health problems, his handlers seem to have added the teleprompters to keep him from tensing up or flubbing.  They are using the reflective glass prompters that are to the right and left at the front of the stage.   He is just getting used to it after some weeks of practice.  He had a tendency at first to look like he was trying to follow a tennis match while speaking.

We noted that we had finally found Harper’s teleprompter the other day.  The media have been so tightly controlled that it had not been visible.  The Conservatives are using a large screen television prompter for him that is parked just in front of the television cameras.  It was not seen until a cameraman finally got behind the tame audience for a back shot of Harper.  The Conservative leader is such a control freak that he probably also memorizes the key points of his prepared remarks.

We have not seen Ignatieff with a teleprompter yet but when he gets to be Prime Minister, he will also have to learn to use them.

Teleprompter support will not be there tonight at the leaders’ first television debate.  This event is staged but not managed to that extent.  It is actual reality television.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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