The only real 'soundbite' in the debate seemed to belong to Jack Layton when he mentioned the "crooks" in the Senate. Once again I was surprised by the failure of Harper's opponents to properly attack him with quips that would stick in people's minds. "Why do you hire Criminals for the PMO and have prostitutes for dinner at Sussex Drive?" Harper's teflon style seems to be continuing despite his absolute corruption and dishonesty. I have a theory about this and it has to do with the idea that the opposition has just let itself be bullied for so long that they have become incapable of fighting back with the kind of spirit necessary to win.
On the other hand it may be a real issue of policy that is standing in the way of the LPC. One of the big problems for the Liberals in this debate is that for many years now they have bought into the entirely erroneous neo-liberal idea that lowering corporate taxes leads somehow to an improved economy. This outrageously counterfactual lie was a fundamental cornerstone of Paul Martin's politics and until this election the Liberals have continually touted this lie as fact. It is for this reason that it was almost impossible for Ignatieff to "win" the debate. When you essentially adhere to the economic approach of your opponent it is very difficult to tell him that he is wrong in any kind of memorable way. If Ignatieff didn't belong to a party that touted this economic lie he could have properly called Harper on the issue of giving billions to corporations. But I think to most Canadians it just sounds like an empty critique to say "don't let the Conservatives give billions to Corporations, let us do a few years from now!" And the simple fact is that no matter what most Liberals and Conservatives say, the two parties are not that substantively different on the economic file. And until the public is really fed up and has reached that inevitable 'throw these bums out' moment, the Liberals will have no way to win an election because they are just too close to the Conservatives on their basic economic outlook.
The UK is a good model for this problem. Tony Blair essentially brought the Labour Party so close to the Tories that there was little between them in terms of economic fundamentals. But Blair was doing this at the tail end of seventeen years of Tory rule. The fact is that Blair hardly had to distinguish himself from John Major on any particular issue because the British public had reached that level of boredom and exhaustion that they were simply ready to get rid of the Tories regardless of policies. As long as Blair had not been perceived as completely whacko he was a shoe in to win the election in 1997. Ignatieff simply does not have this advantage because the Conservatives have not been in power that long and people have not reached this vital moment of political boredom. Thus to really have a chance in this election he would have needed to actually offer a strong fundamental alternative to Harper's regime. But the fact is, the most you can presently say about the LPC is that is is trying to promote a "kindler, gentler" version of the same kind of pro-corporate agenda that the Harperites represent. And this just isn't enough. If Ignatieff could have stood up in the debate and said "the economic advantages of lower corporate taxes is just a Conservative lie designed to shift money and power to Bay Street," I think some people, (particularly young voters) might have payed attention. But the fact is that most Liberals I hear and read actually buy the neo-liberal lies of corporatism, and for this reason they will not win an election until people are just fed-up with the incumbent party, which is still a few years away. Four years of a Harper majority will do the trick. After that, a sufficient number of people will be fed-up and others will see a "kinder, gentler" version of the Conservatives as a desirable thing. But time and hardship will be the only things that will sell the Liberal Party which is presently little more than 'Conservative-lite."
In the end I think we can safely say that Ignatieff had no good sound-bytes because his policies have no teeth.