Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Rejecting Rae

Maclean's has an online piece about Bob Rae that highlights a now recurring theme- persona over policy. The article is titled "Bob Rae's Vision", then proceeds to articulate the idea that vision is a bit player in what is essentially a beauty contest:
In an era when just about every politician with ambition boasts of a vision, a blueprint for transformative change, a new way of doing politics, Rae dismisses all that as unimportant. "It's not a campaign about ideas," he told Maclean's. "You're electing a leader, you're not electing an agenda."

Rae is betting his experience and persona, rather than his platform, will win this for him. He's satisfied to get party members feeling comfortable with him, unlike his key rivals, who are hoping to excite them

Speak for yourself Bob, I'm electing a leader with an agenda.

Policy as appendage:
Rae's rhetoric is restrained and his policy message often comes across as an afterthought. He has a platform, of course...

Yet he's remarkably blunt in declaring that all this is really beside the real point. Choosing a leader isn't about ideas, he declares, as much as finding "a person you're comfortable with." His hope for a second political life rests on selling himself as a moderate guy who has seen it all and knows better than to make dumb mistakes.

You can't fault Rae for leaning on his experience, afterall it's his greatest asset, although controversial. Rae is magnetic, armed with charisma and eloquence that serves him well. However, I am starting to sense a cult of personality aspect to his approach that is frankly a complete turnoff. The Liberal Party desperately needs renewal, which can only be achieved by an agenda that offers relevance. Any candidate who doesn't place policy as primary essentially endorses a philosophy that puts leader over leadership. Did people elect Stephen Harper because they were "comfortable" with him? Have the NDP increased their percentages because people bond with Jack Layton? No, it's the agenda stupid.

I like Bob Rae. However, I see his campaign as increasingly paternal, decidedly insider and overwhelmingly reliant on superficial attraction to sell. Policy as an "afterthought" is a disturbing tactic. The strategy may be a function of Rae's preference to avoid his record, but if that is fact it suggests we are rightfully wary. The Rae approach is diametrically opposed to the reasoning that led me to join the Liberal Party. Chretien and Martin both had experience and charisma in spades. What ultimately unraveled both, and the party with it, a decided lack of core ideas and a coherent agenda that people could embrace. Bob Rae may be comfortable with the status quo, I'm not. The recent endorsements, the scent of the old guard, the persona preference all lead me to think Bob Rae is now the establishment candidate. Newsflash, Canadians have overwhelming rejected this Party and would have done it sooner had the Liberals not benefited from others divisions. I'm not "comfortable" with anything, Bob Rae seems all too cozy with it all.

As an aside, if anyone feels compelled to call this a partisan attack, you are welcome to read any of the glowing posts I have written about Rae in the past.


Young Liberal said...

Excellent post.

It is incredibly ironic that someone who has just joined our party from the NDP is the ultimate establishment candidate. We don't need an entourage of grey-haired folks who are nostalgic for how "progressive" they were in the 1970's.

Let's move into the 21st century. Dion and Kennedy are 21st century candidates.

Herb said...

Martin had charisma???

Yikes. you lost me there. He was a great finance minister but....

Steve V said...

You don't have Martinites unless you have sauvy. I guess I am speaking more to the earlier days, as opposed to the trainwreck election campaigns. There is no question Martin had "star power" during his tenure as FM.

young liberal

I found Fry's endorsement especially confusing. In her speech Fry put a premium on reforming the Liberal Party, making it more democratic and open, then proceeded to endorse the one candidate who's entire reform agenda is "we are all Liberals". If that was Fry's criteria, she picked the guy who has uttered the least. That smells frankly

Miles Lunn said...

Great post. I think the party does need a strong vision. In 1993 we clearly had one, but I think after winning three back to back majorities, we just assumed we would automatically win without having to earn it. Canadians last election sent a message that we cannot continue that way. If we choose a leader with a strong bold vision, and not politics as usual, we can beat Harper. The Vision must also be realistic and it must be one that appeals to a broad section of the Canadian population.

Robert said...

You want vision? Have you read "The Three Questions" by Bob Rae?

I could loan you my copy if you're interested. ;-)

Personally, I find Rae's approach is pragmatic, and frankly realistic... and I'm about as far away from being an "insider" as possible.

I'm surprised to hear the "cult of personality" label being levelled at Rae... I really don't think that is his strength.

dalestreet said...

I always thought that a party's policy should be the result of policy conventions, where the views and ideas of the entire party are debated and discussed before being adopted.

I think the problems that occurred with both Chretien and Martin were more to do with their disregard for the members of their own party (and the Canadian electorate) as opposed to a lack of a personal policy agenda.

Where Liberals (and Canadians, in general) should find concern is if the leader(s) they elect begin to think that they are the party and not merely it's most recognisable representative.

CuriosityCat said...

Liberals should elect a leader who will win the power of a majority government for the party, and become prime minister. Only those with power can make things happen.

So, first, ask yourself whether Bob Rae can win an election against Harper.

If your answer is Yes, then ask yourself if he is a person of integrity. If your answer is No, do not vote for him.

If your answer is Yes, then ask what ideas, policies, and philosophies he has set forth, both during the campaign and before, that would influence his decisions in the powerful post of prime minister.

If you find some things about those that appall you and seem the very antithesis of basic liberalism, then beware, and reconsider your support for him as leader. Find someone else who passes the three-part test.

By the way, read Bob Rae's website. Plenty of pretty good, solid, practical ideas there!

Steve V said...

The three-part test is a good one, but part one is really up for debate. On electablility, the question becomes whether Rae can shake his past. The problem, as seen in the title of the linked story, any discussion about Rae seems to get sidetracked with a mention of the past.

I have read Rae's websites, and I don't mean to suggest there are no ideas, there are many :)

Anonymous said...

The polls seem to show that Bob Rae has the biggest potential draw with Dippers (one polls said 50% of Dippers would contemplate voting Liberal if Bob Rae was leader), far more than Ignatieff or the others.

Given the number of seats where the vote was split between the NDP and LPC in January, this is an enormously significant factor. The Liberals are far more likely to become the government if more Dippers vote for them, than to depend on pulling votes away from Harper's hijacked Tory party.

This makes Bob Rae the most electable candidate, in my book.

Steve V said...


I do believe Rae could appeal to some NDP supporters. I also believe there are several candidates who also might have appeal. Unite the left may be Rae's calling, I don't dispute the possibility.

Miles Lunn said...

I think the so called "unite the left" has its risks. As the Gandolf poll showed while Rae would pick up several NDP voters, he would also drive some Blue Liberal votes over to the Liberals. Although he would pick up more than he would lose, my concern is the distribution of those votes. In Rural Ontario, the Tories only need to pick up a handful of Blue Liberal votes to crack the 50% mark, so that strategy won't work there. In the 905 belt, The NDP was in single digits in most ridings so you don't have to lose many Blue Liberal votes to offset any NDP gains. It might help in ridings like St. Catharines and Peterborough, but how about ridings like Oakville, Oak Ridges-Markham, Newmarket-Aurora, Ajax-Pickering where there are many Blue Liberals but few Dippers. Those are the questions we need to ask. Northern Ontario is going to go either NDP or Liberal anyways while the 416 will go Liberal no matter who we choose. Quite frankly I could care less whether we pile up massive majorities in the 416, or win by smaller margins, we will win those ridings no matter what.

I am not saying Rae would be a disaster. My view is he cannot beat Harper in the first round, but he could hold him to a minority and then beat him the second time around when his record as premier in Ontario will be less of an issue. After all Harper's baggage defeated him in 2004, but not 2006.

burlivespipe said...

Yes, i see your point SteveV. As a Rae guy, I have been less than pleased with the 'its' the leader, stupid' platform that has evolved over the past 2 or so weeks. But I think it's more in the delivery than the concept, which is pragmatic but also realistic.
This is not a campaign like 2003 where two candidates, one strong and one weak, pretended to compete. We have an actual race here, where as opposition there is definitely a sense of urgency from a number of candidates that there needs to be a shake-up. Ideas are flowing, tho not from the grassroots. A real leader will harness these ideas and the people behind them, convert them to a team that can unscramble parliament. That is what I believe Rae's trying to say.
However, that message isn't coming out very well (if i've even got it right), and the current program reminds me too much of those hard-to-swallow pressers where a liberal minister talked about how 'Liberals balanced the budget' and 'Liberals put Canada on a solid financial footing'. All true and good, but I'm much more comfortable when the voices give credit to the sacrifices and decisions made by real and average Canadians...

Steve V said...


Great breakdown!


I don't mean to suggest Rae doesn't have "vision", because clearly his record suggests otherwise. I guess my criticism, this debate has become quite "meaty", with lots of ideas floating about. Rae's pragmatism, if that is the tactic, takes the debate back to generalities, while I prefer nuts and bolts in trying to decide who to ultimately support. Thanks for the input from a Rae supporter.