"This is cool. Is this how liberals feel all the time? Well, except now"

On Christmas evening I had to sit through the excrutiating experience of watching Global TV's Christmas interview with Stephen Harper (and later, Stephane Dion).

The thing which struck me on a whole, which inspires the mangled quote used as a title for this post, is how at the end of the half-hour (20 mins Stephen, 10 mins Stephane) it was the Conservative leader who got the softball questions. From "why are you such a private man" to "what are your Christmas memories", Harper kind of got an easy ride. When he did get tough questions, such as on Afghanistan and Mulroney-Schreiber, Kevin Neumann let him give full answers without picking on weak parts of the argument. Neumann even let Harper get away with the cringe-worthy response Harper gave to the question Neumann has asked every Prime Minister this century: "What part of being Prime Minister has given you the biggest crisis of faith?" Harper started out by professing that he was a Christian (cue cringe from Feynman and Coulter's Love child), and then completely ignored Neumann's question and reformulated it half decently into a talk about how the biggest crisis isn't of faith but of degree, of the gravity of the policy decisions that must be made. While it was a good answer and very well done, Neumann either didn't notice or ignored Harper's re-organizing the question. All in all, Harper gave rather good answers, was quite bold and up-front that he had no intention of letting the Canadian people see "who he really is as a person" beyond hockey/coffee lover and/or family man, instead preferring to decide Canadians knew all they needed to know about his personal life and only would learn more about who Prime Minister Stephen Harper is. Except for the cringe-worthy bit about religion, I thought Harper did a good job. Of course, with hardball questions like that, I could have done a good job.

The soft-ballness of the questioning didn't occur to me during Harper's interview, however. It was in the 10 minute interview with Dion that it really hit home, because here Kevin Neumann gave no quarter. Harpers first questions were about Christmas traditions and fond winter memories. Dion's first question was:

Are you ever going to become fluent in English?
Even I, an on-record Dion-hater, thought that was a little harsh to start off with. [he still relished it of course, don't make no mistakes here.. -ed] From there Dion was asked (briefly) about Mulroney-Schreiber, and then was hammered on the subject of Afghanistan. Dion at one point tried to protest how John Manley's panel wasn't given the option of cutting and running, and Neumann didn't back down on the subject, and kept asking Dion what he would do if Manley's task force came back with a recommendation to stay the course in the south asian nation. After Dion came out of that portion looking like he wishes he was personally in Afghanistan, Neumann ignored Dion's pet issue (the environment) and asked the same question of Harper: why Canadians didn't know yet who he was. While Harper had a good answer to that (he wants Canadians to know about his views on governing the country, not which member of The Guess Who was his favourite -- my money's on Cummings), Dion did not, angrily stating that the only exposure Canadians had to him was the Conservative attack ads. (Apparently Dion forgot about he and his wife's expose's in MacLeans and Reader's Digest in the past year). There is probably plenty of blame to go around for Dion's personality (such as it is) not being exposed to the country. Harper's cabinet's attack ads are pretty far down that list I'd wager. I mean, the Liberals do have a director of communications, don't they? Her name is Liz Whiting, and while it may be uncouth to call her out on national television, it would ultimately be a better strategy than to remind us about the highly effective Conservative attack ads. I mean, at least we can understand if you say that Whiting's suggestions were to go the current way and you agreed with them at the time but in hindsight realize that you should have looked to other options you're taking some extremely indirect responsibility. By blaming Harper, Dion simply looks like the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada is on Parliament Hill as a glorified spectator, which isn't the bold leadership image you really want to portray. As Harper said in his interview:
I guess if I had to choose between being portrayed as a strong leader or being portrayed as a weak leader, I'd pick the strong leader.

(Bonus points for identifying the above quote, incidentally)