Generally, I resist easy comparisons to make a broad point. However, this latest round of Ignatieff clarifications, and the subsequent criticisms, are starting to make me think he might be the Liberal John Kerry. You have to wonder if a general election, with Ignatieff at the helm, will be nothing more than an exercise in defensive politics. Clearly, there must be Conservative strategists grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of Ignatieff as target.
Harper's foreign policy is his achilles heel. The Bush II tag provides powerful symbolism and allows a forceful Liberal rebuttal. However, and I don't mean to suggest Ignatieff is Bushlite, the issue is largely a draw if Ignatieff is the candidate. Much in the way Kerry was forced to constantly defend, clarify and re-defend, I envision a campaign that is forever sidetracked by the past, ample quotes and attempts to spin that only lead to further confusion. Yesterday's leadership debate provided another example of how easily you can get Ignatieff off message. Does anyone believe the Conservatives won't press ten times as hard as fellow Liberals? When does baggage become an albatross?
Mr. Harper, are you concerned that our foreign policy is too closely akin to the Bush agenda? Thanks for the question, but I would remind voters that my opponent has shared many of the same viewpoints, allow me to quote... Foreign affairs will be relegated to a net nothing for the Liberals, while we are forced to argue style points in and amongst the same thesis. Layton will have a field day drawing the distinction, while Ignatieff remains on the defensive.
I don't for one second think Ignatieff is Harper, nor to I believe they come to their conclusions for the same reasons. However, this belief is really irrelevant within an electorate easily influenced by soundbites, sprinkled with easy evidence. You can hear the reporters, you can smell the damage control. Ignatieff's problem is the constant smoldering, that only needs a slight breeze to rekindle the flame. You have to wonder if there is enough superficial distinction for Ignatieff to effectively take the fight to Harper the way it should be, given the agenda. Especially troublesome, foreign affairs is supposed to be Ignatieff's strength in the debate. The question Liberals must ask, is Michael Ignatieff the best person to contrast against Stephen Harper? On this particular file, I can't help but catch a wiff of John Kerry, with similar results. I hope I'm wrong.