Jordan Michael Smith reviews the rise and fall of Michael Ignatieff.
This is a tale with many morals. But one clear takeaway from Michael Ignatieff’s attempt to storm the citadel of power in Canada is that makeovers, particularly by intellectuals trying to transform themselves into politicians, have limits. Once Ignatieff established himself as a cosmopolitan free thinker and intellectual entrepreneur, it was difficult for him ever to posture as an ordinary Canadian pol. Most intellectuals looking to enter politics presumably would not hamstring themselves by living outside their native country for nearly three decades and then return only to aim so soon for the top job. And perhaps only an intellectual would be detached enough to believe such a track record would not be an impediment to leading a country. But if Ignatieff’s palpable erudition provided an occasional warning sign for his ambitions, as seen in those Hamlet-like meditations on power, it also gave him a sense that he was not subject to the rules that govern more mundane careers.
One quibble: I’m not sure how many would have described Stephane Dion as a “politician waiting to happen” before he joined the Liberal government of the day.
Taking into account the failure of the last two Liberal leaders and the success of Stephen Harper and Jack Layton—both of whom, mind you, can claim some “intellectual” credentials—there is probably something to be said for the career politician. Not necessarily that the public consciously prefers the “career politician,” but that it simply takes time and experience to both figure out how to be a political leader and win the public’s trust.