Nothing is personal in politics, because politics is theater. It is part of the job to pretend to have emotions that you do not actually feel. It is a common spectacle in legislatures for representatives to insult one another in the chamber and then retreat for a drink in the bar afterward. This saving hypocrisy of public life is not available in private life. There we play for keeps.
In public life, language is a weapon of war and is deployed in conditions of radical distrust. All that matters is what you said, not what you meant. The political realm is a world of lunatic literalism. The slightest crack in your armor — between what you meant and what you said — can be pried open and the knife driven home...
In the real world, bad public policy can often turn out to be very popular politics indeed. Resisting the popular isn't easy, because resisting the popular isn't always wise. Good judgment in politics is messy. It means balancing policy and politics in imperfect compromises that always leave someone unhappy — often yourself.
Knowing the difference between a good and a bad compromise is more important in politics than holding onto pure principle at any price. A good compromise restores the peace and enables both parties to go about their business with some element of their vital interest satisfied. A bad one surrenders the public interest to compulsion or force.
During the leadership race, it became clear that Ignatieff's greatest enemy was his unedited candor. The term reckless seemed apt, because Ignatieff was constantly amending and clarifying, with what amounted to self-inflicted wounds. There was the impression that the academic didn't understand politics, and this reality clearly hurt his chances when push came to shove. Intellectual musings didn't quite jive with soundbite, gotcha politics. Policy aside, an objective shame, but you can't change the climate you operate in.
I remember having the opportunity to speak with Ignatieff about his environmental plan. I was really impressed with the bold measures, but I asked him if he thought he would pay a political price for some of the more controversial items, particularly the carbon tax idea. Ignatieff's response, he wasn't concerned, because he felt that it was the right thing to do. Period. Completely refreshing, a rarity in today's environment. However, that doesn't mean this approach can work in today's superficial political environment. It's an open question if someone like Ignatieff is suited to be a politician, I would hazard a guess that even Trudeau would be hard-pressed to survive in the new politics. Sound policy is replaced by sound message, avoid any landmines at all costs, principle comes second for the most part.
Ignatieff's article conveys a new-found political maturity. I'm not sure if that is an advancement in thought, or a surrender to dynamics that aren't necessarily attractive or beneficial. Maybe a better politician, but I'm of the opinion, that is a negative, in the grand scheme.