Goodness but there's been a lot of hand wringing over the departure of Michael Ignatieff from Canadian politics. Most of it is filed under W for "we weren't nearly good enough for him." The most egregious of these is Andrew Potter in Maclean's. In a piece titled " No country for good men" he quotes, approvingly, a letter he received pointing out what rubes we are for not falling at the great man's feet.
It's pretty weird: Here's Ignatieff, whose life has been devoted to precisely the challenges and "foreign policy" nuances that are front and centre in everything that's happening of any consequence in the world today, in the so-called Muslim world. If he weren't running for the prime minister's job in Canada, he'd be one of the few go-to guys in the English speaking world on Egypt, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, the latest Hamas-Fatah deal. . . . and here we are in the middle of a Canadian federal election, with all these issues that make Ignatieff look totally world-class and massively relevant, and which make the Tories look stupid but make the NDP look infinitely worse, and we're not supposed to notice that any of it is even happening. Like it's an election for the Orillia school board.
What twaddle. In which solar system are federal election campaigns carried on like seminars at the Woodrow School of International Affairs? Not in this one that's for sure. Lester "Mike" Pearson, who won the peace prize and was a brainiac of the first order, won his seat in Parliament and became prime minister because he connected with the folks in his riding and by extension in the rest of the country. In this last election Michael Ignatieff did neither. In 2008 I sat in a hall in Philadelphia and watched Hillary Clinton imply that Americans couldn't trust Barack Obama because he was an effete snob who wanted to take away their guns and who, by the way, may or may not be a Muslim. Now as I remember Obama didn't spend the next three months carping about character assassination he turned a hard eye at Hillary and pounded her back to the stone age (does anyone remember "Hillary, you're nice enough").
I interviewed Ignatieff during the 2008 campaign and here's what he had to say on the subject of rough campaign tactics:
"There's a genuine dilemma there. Canadians don't like their politics becoming steadily more vicious and there's a price to pay - lower voter turnout, for instance. Some of this is self-correcting. But that said, we're up against a serious and unscrupulous enemy and I don't mean" - here Ignatieff waves his hands as a sort of mock Little Lord Fauntleroy - " 'aren't they being mean.' I'm saying they're lying. They ran an ad for two weeks saying we're going to hike the GST. That's a lie. And I'm not saying that politics shouldn't be rough. Canadians respect that it's a contact sport. I've thrown a punch and I'll throw a punch again. But I try not to lie."
That guy went MIA in this campaign and as a result he's out of politics. Simple as that. In 1998 I studied with Ignatieff at the Banff Centre. He's one of the two or three best teachers I've ever encountered. And if he'd gotten a little more pissed off he might have been a first class politician. But here's the thing: He didn't and as a result he's gone back to something he knows he does well. Seems reasonable to me. So why's everybody getting their knickers in a knot?
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