Crawl Across the Ocean

Friday, December 01, 2006

Topic De Jour

Some thoughts on the eve of the Liberal leadership convention:

1. I hope Bob Rae doesn't win the leadership contest because I'm afraid he would lose the next election.

2. I hope Michael Ignatieff doesn't win the leadership contest because I'm afraid he would win the next election.

3. Gerard Kennedy and Ken Dryden would be fine, but if had a vote I would cast it for Stéphane Dion (although I might vote for Martha Hall Findlay on the first ballot).

What, you want me to explain?

Well, Rick Salutin had a column in the Globe today which included this passage:

"Pause it there. That is the root of everything? See how brainless an articulate, well-educated person can be? What does he think an idea is? They all talk that way. They had this idea: Attack Iraq, spread democracy. Then George Bush and his “dysfunctional” team gummed it up. As if one group, the neo-cons, is responsible for the heavy lifting — getting ideas; then you call in the trades. Look, David, when you get the idea that there's a leak in your basement, it didn't come out of your head, it came out of the pipes. It's related to reality.

Nothing in the numbing daily horror of that country, which they helped sow, has caused any of them to change their big minds. The idea was right. They aren't responsible — they say this — for how it was miscarried out. If ideas fail, blame reality. This is way too much respect for ideas. It misses what they are: tools with which to organize experience, not real entities themselves. They emerge from reality and play back into it. Most normal people sense this interwebbing between our thoughts and the world. You can't just stick in your thumb and pull out a plum of an idea and expect everyone to say what a good boy (almost always) you are no matter what results. That is blindly religious or, in politics, blindly ideological. You used to find it on the left. I am pleased to say it is now largely confined to the right.

But enough about those masses of slaughtered innocents in Iraq. Let's talk about my ideas. I'm so down ... The word callow comes to mind. How do people get this, um, removed? Like David Frum, they might go to an expensive private school such as Upper Canada College, then an elite university such as Yale, where your first public exposure is writing for the National Review, describing how drunk you got with champagne and bliss the night Ronald Reagan won in 1980. Then maybe go as a grad to LSE, and soon be writing editorials for The Wall Street Journal and the National Post (or The Globe and Mail) and on to your own column. Note that you've never done much but think, pontificate, read and discuss ideas with people like you; you have virtually no non-idea experience to test your thoughts against. Compare this to another generation, the Keynesians and “progressives” who created the social programs that neo-cons crusade against. Many of them were also privileged intellectuals, but they had often lived or fought through two world wars and a depression. The real world had imprinted them and their ideas.

I'm sure you can think clearly despite the disadvantages of a cloistered life, but it's a challenge."

The passage was written about David Frum, but, as I suspect Salutin knew full well and intended, that whole passage could also apply in principle, with the details changed, to Michael Ignatieff too.

It's not just the detachment from the consequences of ideas either. I am personally wary of any would-be leader who comes from a privileged background, especially someone who hasn't 'paid their dues' or worked their way up through the system.

I see it as follows: Imagine I had to try and pick the fastest frog out of thousands of frogs for an upcoming frog race I wanted to win. If I lined up thousands of frogs, gave them roughly equal starting spots and then saw which one was fastest across a field to a finish line, that would give me a pretty good level of confidence that the frog I chose, which had beat out thousands of others, was a pretty fast frog.

But what if a few of the frogs were given big head starts? If one of these frogs came first I wouldn't know whether it was that the frog was fast, or just that it had a big head start. This type of thinking explains, to some extent I think, the disappointment of Paul Martin as leader. True, he paid his dues in politics, but he still started from a far advanced position, due to personal wealth, connections and his father's experience as a politician. The extreme case is George Bush - a crippled frog that couldn't even hop, but started with such a big head start that when it fell over, it fell across the finish line and became President. And we all saw where that lead.

Anyway, as Salutin (sort of) says, coming from a sheltered, privileged background doesn't rule a candidate out, but it does make me wary. Combined with the lack of judgement shown on invading Iraq and on re-opening the debate over Quebec's identity, that is more than enough to make me worry a lot about an Ignatieff victory.

As for Bob Rae, I like him, and I think he would do a good job, but I worry that, whatever they might tell pollsters, the people of Ontario just won't vote for him. At least not the centre-right voters the Liberals need to take the small and medium town Ontario seats they need to keep the Conservatives from staying in power.

Kennedy I don't know very well. He seems like more of a pure politician than a policy person, but that can be all right in a leader, if the leader has the confidence and wisdom to put the right people in charge of the right ministries.

Dion seems like the best combination of political experience, knowledge of policy, and toughness/savvy to stick to doing the right thing in the face of hysterical whining from the right-wing media (I'm thinking about taking action on global warming here, but it applies across the board). Of course, it seems Liberals are worried that he might lack charisma, because as we all know, they lost to Harper in the last election because he was just so charismatic.

Anyway, I'm not a Liberal, and it's not my choice, but after keeping silent on the topic all this time, I felt like saying something, so there it is.


  • I know I'm a little late getting around to responding to this as you posted it a few days ago but it was interesting and something that I've thought about myself.

    One of my fears about Ignatieff, was that it would be easy for the Conservatives to label the Liberals as elite, latte drinking, Volvo driving, blah, blah, blah...{insert your culture war comment here}. If you follow the along the thoughts and believed in Tim Hortons vs. Starbucks of the last election, it would be hard not to argue that now the Liberals were the elite Starbucks drinking, not caring about the regular Joe anymore with Ignatieff as leader. He'd be the personification of that train of thoughts.

    Note, I don't or didn't necessarily hold those thoughts after the last election, that it really was Tim Hortons vs. Starbucks in the election but I think if Ignatieff had won, it would have quickly become that.

    By Blogger Bailey, at 7:41 AM  

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