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.)