Taylor Owen has a new piece in the Prospect magazine advancing the claim that Michael Ignatieff could be an Obamaesque figure, “the first transformational Canadian leader in a generation.” Of course, Taylor would say that – he worked on Ignatieff’s leadership campaign.
I’m not buying it. It is pretty obvious that Stephen Harper is the first genuinely transformational leader Canada has had since Trudeau; the fact that most people don’t see it as such is because “transformational” is one of those words, like “change” and “community”, that only get used as terms of approbation (notwithstanding the fact that many changes -e.g. your dog dying – are no good).
So the implicit argument is something like: “Transformational leadership” is a good thing. Stephen Harper is no good. Ergo, SH can’t be transformational leader. Which is just to say that when people say “transformational leader,” all they really mean is “liable to implement changes that I approve of.”
But other than that, I’m still not sure what to think of Professor Ignatieff. For the most part, I think it is a bad idea for academics to go into politics. As for Ignatieff, since he entered Canadian politics he has repeatedly struck me as an intellectual field of wheat, bowing and bending in the direction of whatever breeze happened to be puffing by. Quebec as a nation? Sure, as long as it’s a civic nation. War in Iraq? Well, I was speaking as an academic, not as a politician. Bogus.
That said, I think Ignatieff was treated somewhat unfairly by the anti-war left, especially over his supposed support for torture. In general, his opponents have made poor sport of digging through his past writings and tugging passages out of context for political gain.
All of which is to say, I can’t make my mind about the man. Maybe I’d have more consistent views on his candidacy if he were more consistent on the issues that really matter, and which are supposedly his academic specialty.
In the end, I hope he doesn’t end up regretting his ambition, as I’m sure Stephane Dion must, to some degree. Still, he can’t say I didn’t warn him.