Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

No Experience Necessary?

I think the Ignatieff campaign for Liberal leader made a smart move in giving the Calgary Grit a chance to do a one-on-one interview with Ignatieff. It's smart because it helps Ignatieff get the word out and also because it shows that he is willing to embrace new ideas. But one question in particular caught my attention.

CG asks,
"Question 6: You have next to zero experience in politics and yet you are running to be Prime Minister? What is it about politics that makes a lack of experience no big deal for an individual trying to reach the top?"

So how would you expect Ignatieff to answer this question? If there's one thing people commonly say about Ignatieff, it's that he may be a good intellectual but that doesn't mean he will be a good politician.

An intellectual with no political angle to play would (in my opinion) probably take CG's question as an academic one and attempt to answer it in those terms. One line of response might be to note that politics does not require industry specific skills the way that medicine or professional baseball does. Rather, the skills required for politics (wise decision making, strong work ethic, good memory, charisma, public speaking etc.) are skills which are useful - and which can be acquired and honed - in many different lines of work. I'm sure there are many other possible academic responses to this question.

So that's the intellectual response. Now if you consider CG's question from a purely political point of view, you could paraphrase it as, "Given that a more experienced politician is a better politician, why should we vote for an inexperienced politician like you?"

Considering that many of Ignatieff's likely rivals, Gerard Kennedy, Stèphane Dion, Ken Dryden, have all held Ministerial jobs up until just recently, that Ignatieff has less political experience than his rivals is inarguable. In order for Ignatieff to make political hay from this question, he needs to attack the premise.

Ignatieff needs to turn what is a weakness in CG's formulation (lack of experience), into a strength. This is not particularly hard. He could mention how Paul Martin was involved in politics from the time he reached up to his father's knees, and how did he turn out as PM? Or the same type of argument could be used against Joe Clark or Brian Mulroney. Or he could take a shot at Bob Rae suggesting that sometimes a blank slate is better than a bad experience. Even tired Conservative rhetoric about how the 'average' Canadian has had enough of career politicians would be reasonably effective.

So how did Ignatieff answer this question?

"Ignatieff replied that he had plenty of experience, being a delegate at the 1968 leadership convention thus making him the "only candidate with experience at a brokered convention" [Note: That seems like a bit of a stretch to me. I mean, just because I've eaten a Big Mac, doesn't mean I'm qualified to be CEO of McDonald's]. He also commented on his international experience, having been to Afghanistan and around the world.

He then acknowledged that no one has a perfect resume in this race and he's aware that he's "not Superman". All the candidates have limitations, but he feels he can overcome his."

By accepting CG's premise, Ignatieff legitimized the notion that an inexperienced politician is a bad politician. And his argument in favour of his experience, as CG himself notes, is weak. This is not a good political answer. It is also not a good intellectual answer. Ironically, this poor response is a great example of the potential hazards facing a party that elects an inexperienced politician as their leader.

So the evidence is mixed. On the one hand, Ignatieff showed a common touch and a willingness to innovate by agreeing to be interviewed on a blog. On the other hand, maybe there is something to these worries about inexperienced politician, after all.


  • Well said.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:30 PM  

  • I think you're probably right, but isn't it oddly conforting that he didn't come up with the typical political deflection.

    It's almost Harperesque -- or how he answered before his final conversion to a politician. Mind you he got his butt kicked before his conversion.

    By Blogger KevinG, at 9:49 PM  

  • Indievoter - thanks. I found your post on Ingatieff interesting as well.

    Kevin - I'd find it more comforting if it was less Harperesque! It seems like Ignatieff is headed down the same kind of road (as you rightly point out).

    By Blogger Declan, at 8:39 AM  

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