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Watching the California gubernatorial debate Tuesday night was an eye-opening experience as a TV showcase — and one, I swear, that wasn’t filtered by the prism of politics.

Whatever you might think of Jerry Brown, he’s a veteran politician who can address policy issues in a substantive, passionate way. You might disagree with his political philosophy, but he clearly has one.

Meg Whitman, on the other hand, strikes me as a Frankencandidate — a construct of image consultants, stringing together platitudes culled from campaign ads, without a shred of substance to back it up.

Brown’s answers came across as conversational, albeit self-serving. Whitman’s felt like non-responses, careering from one scripted talking point tot he next. Oh, and don’t forget to keep that smile frozen on your face. The consultants say voters love it.

Brown also produced a few rare moments of levity, joking about his age preventing him from seeking higher office, and making him a bargain by deferring his pension payments.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was a charming outsider, but as Brown noted, that didn’t translate particularly well into managing Sacramento’s dysfunctional political system. Whitman’s experience running eBay is probably more preparation than starring in “Commando” and “Total Recall,” but it’s hard to escape a sense that Whitman is seeking to buy high office with her vast personal fortune.

Neither choice speaks very well of the current state of politics, but the televised debate was illuminating.

Jerry Brown didn’t look old or tired. And Meg Whitman looked like the unsavory byproduct of a system where it’s possible to string a candidacy together entirely out of dollar bills.

“I don’t think you can buy elections,” Whitman said near the debate’s end.

She had better hope that she’s wrong.