More or less ridiculous than the Pinball Clemons comparison?


Lawrence Martin goes ahead and makes the inevitable Ignatieff-Obama comparison.

“Is there any hope out there, anyone capable of stirring our masses? The closest to having the right stuff when charisma comes calling is probably Michael Ignatieff. He has the lean and savvy and worldly look, intellectual credentials by the barrel, a voice with timber and, as the author of several books, a feel for uplifting language.”

Fair enough. There aren’t many who would quibble with Michael Ignatieff’s ability to speak in public. When we polled MPs last year, the Liberal deputy was named best orator and I wrote a sidebar about his eyebrows.

But, er, so what? Or, rather, how much does that matter?

Well, a lot actually. How well you talk and how good you look in an expensive suit matters more than you’d likely admit. At some point in the last six months, Stephen Harper started wearing very nicely tailored jackets that instantly made him seem 10% more electable. And I didn’t quite believe Michael Ignatieff could be prime minister until I saw him deliver a rather rousing speech to about 50 supporters standing in the parking lot of a riding office beside a highway just outside Hamilton.  

That said, surely the point of Mr. Obama isn’t that pretty speeches supersede all else. Surely, the point of Mr. Obama is that pretty speeches only matter if everything else reinforces what we see and hear; if the judgment and message and ideas and personality and history and actions of the politician make the presentation believable. And if, on a very practical level, the campaign makes that tangible. (In addition to being well-organized, well-funded, disciplined and massive, the Obama campaign also empowered its members in a way that allowed a coherent and functional “movement” to build around the pretty speeches.)

Mr. Ignatieff’s problems in 2006 were exactly those: questions of judgment and message and ideas and personality and history and action. And then he went to the convention and didn’t deliver a particularly pretty speech. Maybe, as Martin puts it, those were “rookie mistakes.” But there probably won’t ever be a Prime Minister Michael Ignatieff—let alone a Canadian Barack Obama—unless or until all of those questions are implicitly or explicitly answered.

(This is just as true of Stephen Harper, a politician who seemingly makes great effort to avoid pretty speeches. He has, at the very least and for all his various incarnations, a single idea of himself that is vaguely supported by what he projects as his judgment, message, ideas, personality, history and action. Politics is, as usual, both way more complicated than usually explained, but also way more simple.)


More or less ridiculous than the Pinball Clemons comparison?

  1. Once again everyone seems to be concerned about style over substance. Obama seems to have provided political strategists with a new template for electoral success, as in, “Hey, it’s okay to seem intelligent!”. (or thoughtful, or able to treat opponents with respect, or pay more than lip service to the “grass-roots”), etc., etc. The difficulty for the strategists is in finding someone to support that actually can back up the style with substance.

    Your point about everything having to reinforce the first impression, whether it be pretty suits or pretty words, is exactly right on. Cynicism about politics and politicians grows everytime we notice that the actions don’t match the words, and wanes when we see consistancy of actions, words, organization, process, etcetera.

    I submit there’s a big difference between 1) an organization built to support a candidate first through the primary/caucus elections and then through the actual general election(i.e. David Plouffe’s organization supporting Barack Obama) and b) an organization primarily concerned with gaining power that will adapt itself (or not) to a leadership “style” (as in the main political parties in Canada). There will necessarily be consistancy in the former case, these people went through a “war” together, but in the latter case, a party’s strategic considerations seem often to undermine the leader’s message.

    When I DO consider leadership (difficult in Canada since we only vote by proxy for our leaders), I look primarily at the people that the leadership candidate has attracted to his or her campaign. If I see a lot of experienced political operatives, “bagmen” (or “bagwomen”), or endorsements from those benefiting from the status quo, I tend to be more skeptical about the consistancy of style and substance. If I see a lot of newcomers to the political stage, or endorsements from “outsiders” that have already contributed to society, then I’m more certain that what I see is what I get.

  2. Seriously, people, Danny Williams is Canada’s answer to Barack Obama. Watch the video!

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