Sunday, August 05, 2007

Ignatieff Loses His Naivety

Ignatieff's Iraq mea culpa aside, the article he has written for the NYT offers some astute observations about the political arena. It would appear the political novice has a far better understanding of the terrain he now navigates:
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.


Anonymous said...

Not so sure about that. When watching Meet the Press this morning, a panel of authors was on and a study of traits of the best presidents/leaders was discussed. I wish I could remember them all - maybe it will be on the website later.

Some traits:

- able to admit mistakes
- had people of opposing opinions around them.
- had bad and humbling experiences in their climb to power.
- able to relax
- personable and communicable, likeable.

Negative Traits that made bad leaders:

- can't admit to mistakes.
- believe they are always right - arrogance about their opinions.
- unable to hide anger in public

Boy, Harper sure fits into the negative.

Ignatieff may be showing the humbling experiences and admitting to being able to make mistakes.

UWHabs said...

I've definitely warmed more up to Iggy as he's learned a bit. If he'd had this experience going in to the leadership race, I think he would have easily won, like people were predicting.

Anonymous said...

Face it - Igantieff didn't have much time to get his feet wet. He went from one Federal election to a leadership race with no break (other than a 2 week vacation that everyone attacked). I think the party believed that there would be more time for him to learn and show his stripes as an MP, but Harper and Layton couldn't wait to bring the government down. So, Ignatieff was on a constant campaign trail. He's sure learned a lot since that time. Obviously, a quick learner.

You know, you can't fix a problem properly until you face the absolute truth about that problem.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Different generation. The Western world was much younger then.

Iggy was not like Trudeau. Trudeau was an unknown until 1960. Iggy had his own talk show and was a renowned novellist living in London. He had friends in the bohemian crowd, Trudeau was a law professor waiting for Duplessis to die off so he can change the world.

Trudeau was destined for politics, especially for a young Canada. For Iggy, it was the final journey of an intellectual bohemian. It remains to be seen whether he can handle a ministerial brief and make the strategic decisions to win votes with the Canadian populace. This remains an open book in Iggy's political career.

Anonymous said...

"I think the party believed that there would be more time for him to learn and show his stripes as an MP, but Harper and Layton couldn't wait to bring the government down."

The government was down by then. Iggy came in the year 2006 with the Liberals in opposition. The knives were out for Martin and some parts of the party establishment were willing to support him as party leader.

Many supporters felt he would bring the Liberal party back to the glory days of Lester B. Pearson. However, Iggy is no Pearson. He had no cabinet experience and there is a difference between being a intellectual bohemian and international statesman. The latter is suitable training to be Prime Minister and I am not sure of the previous one.

Anonymous said...

Ignatieff was being criticized for not admitting he was wrong and now for admitting he was wrong.

No winning it seems - damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Seems the media haven't much to write about these days - hey, why isn't Harper being asked about his view that Canada should go to Iraq? He's never admitted error and/or apologized. Hmmm... and they say Liberal media - uh, huh.

Oh boy do we despartely need some "real" journalists in Canada. They are a joke.

Mark Dowling said...

Today's Star editorial on this column is shockingly poor. Nobody's allowed to admit they are wrong, Ignatieff still marking time before his retreat to the States, blah blah f**king blah.

Ignatieff admits teaching politics at Harvard was no preparation for politics. No surprise. We have a Harvard economics grad as Mayor of Toronto and look how well that's going.

Anonymous said...

Michael knows very well he should have come clean on Iraq a hell of alot sooner than this week.
It hurt him during his nomination and haunted him during the leadership campaign.
This is all very similar to a certain US politician running for President.

Mark Dowling said...

Anonymous - I don't accept your point of view (and the Star's, it seems) that Ignatieff only figured out this week he made the wrong call on supporting the Bush invasion. This article speaks more to how he got there and how he got to change his view than an announcement of a change of mind.

[He made the right call on Saddam after 1992 - someone who wields poison gas as a domestic policing mechanism should be deposed. At the time I held the same view and still do].

Anonymous said...

So has Iggy displayed the appropriate amount of humility now or not? He should perhaps grovel a little more, for credibility sake. And attack George Bush with gusto and venom - that's always good.

Anonymous said...

Boy - the old double standard. No one's talking about Harper's mistake supporting Iraq - and Harper an experienced politician.

Still waiting Steve for your admission of error.

"Experienced" politicians who still believe in Iraw - Bush, Cheney, McCain, Guiliani and more. Makes you wonder if "experience" is that important.

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting response to the Ignatieff piece.

Mark Dowling said...

It's only interesting if one ignores, as Palermo and all the pile-on commenters do, this sentence from the very first paragraph: "it has also condemned the judgment of many others, myself included, who as commentators supported the invasion."

This isn't like Pope John Paul talking about paedophiles without talking about them in a way that infuriated me during the last years of his Papacy.

So Reagan supported Saddam in the 80s - well it's never happened that a US backed dictator turned out to be a piece of crap has it? If the US had backed Saddam post Halabja maybe Palermo might have had a point but instead he is just looking to associate Ignatieff with Reagan's foreign policy.

Palermo then decides that the word "all" means "all except the invasion". Ignatieff wouldn't have got this guys forgiveness if he turned up in the main square of Berkeley with a set of stocks and provided his own rotten fruit and he shouldn't worry about not getting it.

Steve V said...

Interesting perspective for sure. One thing to keep in mind, in terms of revision, I doubt an Ignatieff led America would have went to war in the first place. Attaching Ignatieff, who actually had first hand experience in Iraq, with Bush, who had left his country only twice in his lifetime isn't fair in my mind. A different set of reasonings, and I'm prepared to think Ignatieff's were more noble, if that word is appropriate. I'm prepared to take the Kurd explanation at face value, and just chalk it up to very bad judgement in not seeing the pitfalls.

Anonymous said...

Ignatieff wouldn't have got this guys forgiveness if he turned up in the main square of Berkeley with a set of stocks and provided his own rotten fruit and he shouldn't worry about not getting it.

And why should he give Ignatieff forgiveness? While the majority of the world had figured out that the US government was fixing so-called evidence to go to war, the nutty professor didn't hear any warning bells going off...

"People with good judgment listen to warning bells within."

Let's face it, we all know the lack of vision is as much Ignatieff's problem as it is Bush's. They've both expressed the importance of following once gut feeling, yet they were both so wrong when it mattered most.

Not that I'm surprised. Here's why Iggy should never be in politics in the first place:

"He had led a charmed life, and in charmed lives warning bells do not sound."

Iggy, you've got as much blood on your hands as your fellow neo-con friends.

We'll forgive you in our next lives.