Let's begin this election by making a pledge: That Michael Ignatieff should not be an election issue. Whatever the merits of his policies may be, he is, as a writer for the Financial Times has put it, "by any measure an extraordinary Canadian."
Personal attacks on Mr. Ignatieff have been the preferred tactic of his political opponents from the moment he entered political life after a distinguished career as a human-rights theorist, writer and academic. These attacks have benefited from an unfortunate national prejudice that views success abroad with suspicion or, in its extreme form, contempt.
Many people lament the poisonous atmosphere in Ottawa, and, fairly or unfairly, the ostensibly poor quality of those attracted into political service, especially career politicians. Mr. Ignatieff is the antithesis of this type.
He is indeed an extraordinary Canadian. He was listed as one of the world's 100 leading public intellectuals by Foreign Policy for his thinking on the "tension between security and human rights, the fight against modern terrorism and the philosophy of freedom." (That quote is taken from the citation of one of his 11 honorary degrees.) His books have received many awards, including the Governor-General's Award for Literature and the George Orwell Prize, and one was short-listed for the Booker Prize. The American philosopher Francis Fukuyama called Mr. Ignatieff's Lionel Gelber Prize-winning book, Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, "a marvellous work that shows the diversity, complexity, agonies and horrors of nationalism with greater depth and insight than most, if not all, academic treatises." He has written for The New Yorker, hosted programs for the BBC, and has held teaching positions at Cambridge, the University of London and Harvard.
No one would argue that Mr. Ignatieff's achievements entitle him to ride a howdah to 24 Sussex Drive, whereby he would descend to take up his seat as prime minister. But at the same time, they should not be thrown in his face in the form of corrosive personal attacks.
The Conservatives have already tried to make Mr. Ignatieff's career - read, his accomplishments - an issue. They have unleashed attack ads with the slogan "Ignatieff: he didn't come back for you." It is an ugly and impoverished strategy. There are many good reasons not to vote Liberal; the leader's character is not one of them. For once, let's debate ideas and not deride success.