First off, let me state, that I genuinely like and appreciate Bob Rae, his talents considerable, he would make a much better PM than the current character- that goes without saying. However, in doing your own mental math, to determine which person is best suited to become Liberal leader, who can end the Conservative reign and put the party back into government, it is imperative that you recognize the potential pitfalls ahead.
If I were to ask you which issue you think is likely to be the central point of debate in the next election, what would that be? Further to that question, assuming you answered as I suspect, what lines of attack would give the Liberals the most mileage, what is the government's achilles heel? I would submit, the answers are obvious, it will be the economy, and within that dicussion the Liberal argument will center around deficits and fiscal mismanagement. I can't tell you how many times I've heard various Liberal MP's and party people speak to this issue in the past few days, it's a political no-brainer, a gift in terms of attack lines.
With the above in mind, I listened to Bob Rae do a radio interview on The John Oakley Show this past Friday. Rae did a very able job declawing Oakley, but within that discussion, the challenges Rae will face crystallized, a critical moment for consideration:
"I did not bring in a deficit. The fact of the matter is, the recession caused the deficit, we did not have a tax and spend agenda, that's just nonsense. We had a situation where revenues where dropping like a stone as a result of the recession, that's what happened."
"Okay, so if we have a deficit now, at the federal level or the provincial level, is that going to be the personal fault of Mr. Harper or Mr. McGuinty? I don't think so, these are things that happen"
"If Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty take us into deficit because of the situation or circumstances, you'd be willing to cut them a lot of slack?"
"With great respect John, they're not taking us into deficit...
"Mr. Rae, if the country runs a deficit, do you give them the benefit of the doubt?"
"It's not a matter of giving them the benefit of the doubt, the fact is there is a very serious recession on John, maybe you haven't noticed. A lot of people are going to be losing their jobs, a lot of people aren't going to be paying taxes, a lot of companies are not going to be in a position to pay taxes. That is going to have a major impact on the revenues of the country. Would I agree with everything they have done so far, in terms of how they've spent things? No, but do I hold them personally responsible for the fact that we're going to have a deficit here, and in Ontario, of course not and no reasonable person should do that"
And there it is, what amounts to red flags of biblical proportions. In order for Rae to defend his record, he must absolve the current government from much of its responsibility. This isn't a question of fairness, this is politics, and the above confirms that a Rae-led Liberal Party can forget about pinning any personal responsibility onto this government. Rae confirms the wasted opportunity, he argues no reasonable person should blame the government, merely a victim of economic circumstance. You can't blame Rae, the fact of the matter, it is really the only logical argument he can make, otherwise he is left with criticizing himself as well.
The question for Liberals to sift through, is it really advantageous to have a new leader, essentially neutered, even something of an apologist, on the central issue moving forward? I simply can't reconcile the wisdom of introducing fundamentally damaged goods to the equation, then expecting that flawed start will result in ultimate victory. It just doesn't work that way, and Rae's own words confirm the problem.
Liberals need to crucify this government on the economy, they need to point to the squandered surplus, they need to make the argument that this is a "made in Canada" deficit, not merely the result of events outside of our control. Rae needs "events outside of his control" to justify his record (whether he is right, completely and utterly meaningless), and that fact will give a free pass every time, we effectively cede any potential advantage. I fail to see the attraction, as a matter of fact, I see nothing but defeat. Love you Bob, respect people that are supporting you, but the above interview is representative of nothing but political poison, it literally makes me cringe.