Sometimes I get the feeling our political pundits like to blast our current and former politicians as a way to pass the time. Take, for example, Michael Den Tandt’s takedown of Michael Ignatieff, just because the former Liberal leader chose to do a mini-reflection of his career in The New Republic.
Reading Mr. Den Tandt’s rant, you sorta get the feeling that he’s upset that Ignatieff would even think of trying to examine why he will be fated to become the worst leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. (No, you victims of Justin Derangement Syndrome, not second worst.) Allow me to quote:
There was no call, none, for him to again adopt the conceit of the wise, battle-scorched political warrior, casting pearls of advice to the prime ministers of tomorrow. Who, in heaven’s name, does this man imagine he is? …
… Goaded by the hellfires of ambition, or something, he casts aside the academy and, though a neophyte, hacks his way through Bob Rae’s slavering legions in the 2006 Liberal leadership race, only to be stymied at the finish by nebbish Stephane Dion. Undaunted, the great man again vaults past Rae in late 2008, early 2009. He seizes the leadership.
But then? Seems nobody in Canada, this unimaginative agglomerate of apple-fritter-chewing, beer-swilling philistines, cares about the contents of his gigantic brain.
Fortunately Mr. Ignatieff’s piece is available online here. As far as reads go, particularly from former politicians, it’s … okay. At least the man’s a bit more honest and forthcoming about his weaknesses, as well as delivering a better analysis of his poor decision-making than he’d done in his earlier memoir, Fire and Ashes. Again, let me quote:
The attacks that are hardest to deal with are not the ones that are false, but the ones that have a sliver of truth. Being out of the country was nothing to be ashamed of, but it didn’t exactly help me to establish the trust that any politician must establish with voters.
Conjuring that trust requires authenticity. You can’t pretend to be somebody you’re not. People who say politics is acting get it wrong. You’re not playing a role. You’re on stage, true enough, but you’re playing yourself….
A man like Nixon had authenticity aplenty. Voters knew exactly who he was: suspicious, manipulative, duplicitous, and just like them. They saw through him to themselves.
John Kerry fell victim to the swift-boat attack because he couldn’t own the young lieutenant back from Vietnam who gave that damning testimony in Congress about the terrible things he witnessed up the Mekong Delta. Once the swift-boat attacks hit their target, once he failed to reply, Kerry could talk, but no one was listening. He had lost his standing.
This is one of the reasons why I’m never quick to dismiss Mr. Ignatieff’s writings the way I would, say, Warren Kinsella’s. That bit about “standing” can conveniently explain why successful politicians succeed despite obvious flaws. (Oh, hello, Mayor Ford.) It also offers a very good hint on why Conservative strategists are having such a hard time knocking on Justin Trudeau: they don’t seem to get that everyone already knows and accepts that Justin has little experience, even Justin himself. That lack of experience translates into a certain amount of freedom to break from how Liberals have done business before (e.g. expelling errants from caucus).
One other quote:
People who think they’re entitled to standing—because they are brainy, rich, or famous—almost always lose. They forget you earn your standing, you are not entitled to it.
Mr. Den Tandt might need to be reminded that Mr. Ignatieff isn’t uttering a platitude, or issuing a warning to Justin. He is, in fact, talking about himself, which again is something that was lacking from that earlier memoir. It’s an acknowledgement of his own arrogance, his preconceptions about politics that had to be shattered.
And finally, there’s something that didn’t appear in Fire and Ashes: an acknowledgement, of sorts, that the Liberal Party won’t be able to return to power if it doesn’t come to terms with the way politics is practiced in the here and now. Of course, this sort of thinking is unfashionable, which may be one of the reasons why Mr. Den Tandt is upset about his reappearance; it’s always more fun to write and speculate about current perfidy and options for reform. But even losers can make a point.