Warren's post today highlights a theme I would argue should become a centerpiece of our message:
Now, Michael Ignatieff is not a professional politician or a lobbyist, like Harper is and was. Ignatieff has done other things with his life.
Because of that, he has — genuinely and truly - tried to do things differently since entering public life. Because of that, he has come to believe that Canadians are fed up with politicians who put naked grabs for power before everything else. They’re fed up with the kind of games Harper excels in.
So, when Harper’s Reformatories whipped up a crisis at the end of last year, my leader had lots of people — including some in the Liberal Party — urging him to push Harper out and lead a coalition government. Ignatieff certainly could have done that. But that just isn’t how Ignatieff wanted to win.
I understand why you don't directly respond to your opponent's attack lines, because effectively you've lost half the battle arguing on their chosen ground. That said, there are ways to address any festering negatives, in a way that highlights a strength. Ignatieff isn't a career politician, he isn't a polished operative, forever consumed with tactics and posturing. That fact provides a telling contrast with Harper, and it also speaks to voter cynicism.
Ignatieff should use his past as part of a more over arching message. Rather than "just visiting", Ignatieff actually enjoys a compelling story, a pedigree that shows a wide array of experience, all of it outside of politics and partisanship. If one wants a compare and contrast, then you can frame Ignatieff as the worldly figure making significant contributions, Harper the perpetual backroom partisan, a political creature that embodies everything that turns off Canadians, that alienates them from their political class. You don't react to Conservative attacks, you turn the argument on your head as a choice between politics as usual and a different approach.
The Liberals made a mistake, part of this was due to the Dion legacy. In order to avoid the dreaded "weak" characterization, we tried to make Ignatieff appear strong and steady, but in so doing set himself up to fall short. Beyond that though, the idea of trying to make Parliament work, attempting to find common ground at the expense of pure political calculus is one that resonates. Canadians are largely disgusted with all political parties, the strategic mistake of the Liberals undercut what could have, and still can be, a positive narrative. As cheesy as it seems, the notion of a "new kind of politics" is poised to be a winning storyline.
As we head into the summer and beyond, the Liberals should embrace Ignatieff's past, in a way that puts the emphasis on Harper's less than attractive characteristics. Harper's chief weaknesses revolve around the sense that he's hyper-partisan, petty, mean spirited, forever playing political games. Ignatieff succeeds when he distances himself from the status quo politician. I would embrace his relative inexperience in the arena, highlight the fact that he isn't seasoned. Surrounded by career politicians, the "outside the beltway" approach to politics has an audience, just waiting for a messenger.
There's a certain authenticity when I've heard Ignatieff speak on his approach, how he sees his role and his obligations. That message has never really been co-ordinated, more snippets here and there, but nothing terribly coherent or purposely repetitive. Reading Kinsella, I wonder if the Liberals would be wise to focus and brand Ignatieff as an political anomaly, address voter cynicism head on and make a plea for a new kind of discourse.
On the practical front, we need to arm Ignatieff will real world examples of how his thesis would apply. If you want to address attacks, without being reactive, Ignatieff should tout his background as representative of a unique path to ascendency. The idea of a career politician isn't a plus in today's environment, being a novice brings opportunity to mold. If Canadians get a sense that the Liberals are lead by a guy who isn't business as usual, an honorable man that conducts himself in a high signal way, that could well be the frame that puts the Liberals back in government.