What is one to make of the huge gap between the calm, non-ideological Prime Minister we saw interviewed by Peter Mansbridge? And the partisan, nasty and dictatorial Stephen Harper painted by his critics, including many in the media?
Some of what we saw on CBC Tuesday evening may be real. But most of it is fake. Who doubts that Conservative attack dogs are operating with Mr. Harper's approval, even if he is not micromanaging each and every one of their low blows?
In politics, it's been said, you have to be able to fake sincerity. Or, as Michael Ignatieff has remarked in several interviews, much of politics is theatre.
To a remarkable degree, Mr. Harper appears to have mastered the technique. Mr. Ignatieff, on the other hand, is still struggling to find the right balance.
His problem is that he is a serious thinker. But serious thinkers are easy to caricature, as Mr. Ignatieff has discovered on the issue of torture, where he's been mercilessly and unfairly attacked by his opponents. And when you add that to a comportment that often comes across as that of a snob, he has a serious problem with Canadians.
NDP Leader Jack Layton exudes a different form of inauthenticity. With corduroy-clad Ed Broadbent, you knew you were getting the real thing. Jack Layton, on the other hand, sometimes comes across as a slick insurance agent. And the visible traces of a privileged background, including descent from two generations of conservative politicians, create a dissonance with most of what he is advocating.
Mr. Ignatieff should try harder to be himself. And, Mr. Layton, in addition to dressing down, should try a more relaxed posture when he rises in the House during Question Period.