by de Gondi
Wed Mar 15th, 2006 at 12:44:37 PM EST
Last night's debate was a novelty for Italy. Stringent rules were set to take into every feasible aspect of the program from camera positions to neutral backdrops to lighting. Each candidate had two and a half minutes to answer the journalist's question, plus an additional minute to make a rebuttal to the opponent. At the end of the debate one candidate had the possibility to make a two and a half minute appeal to voters.
The two opponents were visibly emotional at the start. Prodi is known to be ill-at-ease and clumsy in front of cameras, while Berlusconi's tension may be due to his losing position in the polls. A good showing in a debate could help his position. He has made it clear that he is forced by law to abide by what he considers impositions and restrictions.
Promoted by Colman
Prodi comes across as a rural parish priest and a contadino, as someone who comes from peasant stock. He has large massive hands and tends to gesticulate with sweeping, almost surprising, movements to drive a point home. This characteristic is more an advantage than a liability. It's a reassuring image in the Italian cosmography.
In the debate Prodi stuck to his strategy of talking about the future, his program and proposals. He avoided negative remarks about his opponent and only once mentioned the center-right throughout the debate. He came across as a pro-active candidate who recognizes the current difficulties and offered concrete solutions to resolve them. His language was plain and simple. He made sparing use of technical terms and ciphers.
Berlusconi's mastery of television played against him. He was the only one who visibly wore make-up. His desire to appear tanned by accentuating his cheeks was betrayed by the neutral lighting and lack of filters. He appeared to have a mask which turned his Reagan-like impish smirk into something between the Joker and Michael Jackson. He adapted a managerial persona and spent most of the evening doodling rectangles and circles on a blank sheet of paper as if he had an ideal text in front of him. This was distracting, all the more so because his suit sleeves would hike up the faster he scribbled. By the end of the debate he began to address an imagery point off camera, perhaps accustomed to having cameras move around him and his gaze. This created a strange effect since it seemed he was addressing someone behind the moderator while talking to the public. At one point the director switched camera to follow him, which appeared more a gesture of pity than a breaking of the strict rule of fixed cameras. This single abrupt switch of cameras accentuated the anomaly rather than adjust it.
Prodi always managed to answer questions within the time limit, setting the premises of his argument, developing his argument and concluding. Berlusconi consistently timed out with no conclusive argumentation. He tended to accelerate and raise his voice once he passed the time limit and would more often than not be broken off in mid-sentence by the courteous interruption of the moderator.
Much of Berlusconi's discourse revolved around attacking the left rather than answering the question. At one point Prodi remarked that Berlusconi seemed to be the leader of the opposition since he repeatedly blamed Italy's disasters on the past. Prodi reminded Berlusconi that he has been in power for the past five years and needn't go back to Garibaldi to find fault. Berlusconi's tactic was to provoke Prodi by insulting him and his coalition. Prodi largely ignored this ploy and insisted on talking about contents and the future. Berlusconi resorted to citing figures and obscure institutes that made him look tedious rather than well-informed. Prodi quipped that this avalanche of numbers would send half the public to bed and, besides, nobody believes in numbers.
Berlusconi made a major error when addressing the fact that there are very few women in responsible positions in his government. He attributed it to women's natural desire to dedicate themselves to the family and the kids. There are only two women in his government. Prodi replied that he found it sad to legislate something that should taken for granted, that is women should have at least 50% of the seats and office appointments. He said that beyond a consistent presence of women in his own government he would propose a law that would make a 30% mandatory minimum quota for women to positions of responsibility.
By lot, Berlusconi was the one to give a concluding appeal to the electorate. For 64 seconds he complained about the unjust laws that prevented him from speaking. He then spent nearly a minute praising himself and his government before lapsing into another one minute tirade against the left until he was once again cut off by the moderator.
Prodi had a right to overtime and made a brief and effective appeal. He acknowledged that there would be necessary sacrifices but with the scope of working together to pull out of a tough situation. He was in rural pulpit mode but highly effective, especially with his large meaty gestures. He hoped that by working together in the long run "we could organize a little happiness for us all."
According to all professional polls Prodi won this first debate.