The problem with the Conservative attack ads against Michael Ignatieff isn’t that they’re rude or desperate—it’s that they’re lame. The party that nailed Stéphane Dion as Prof. Whiny McShrugsalot has hit a sophomore slump in trying to pigeonhole the new guy.
The Tory argument against the Liberal leader boils down to three assertions:
- Ignatieff went away, was a big success in strange foreign places that scare Conservatives like “Europe” and “the classroom” . . . and then—insert sharp intake of breath to denote shock—he came back home! Sweet mother of God, how do we know he didn’t spend that time being body-snatched or developing a coherent world view? It’s obviously better to have done what Stephen Harper did, and not step foot off the continent for the first 40 years of life—just to let that Canadian-ness steep a little longer.
- He’s pretty high on himself. So it’s come to this—Harper is taking out ads to call someone else arrogant. Isn’t that a bit like the pot calling the kettle to point out that it can only boil water while I, Stephen Harper, the magnificent pot, can boil water and cook soup? You sicken me, you stupid inferior kettle.
- The commercials include the line: “He’s only in it for himself.” Ah, yes, so Ignatieff is selfish—as opposed to Harper, that famously altruistic chap who ruthlessly pursued power only as a favour to future generations.
It’s enough to make you feel for Conservative strategists. They’re working so hard that Ruby Dhalla has asked to hold on to their passports. And as Canadians, we owe them—because were it not for their attack ads, we would have been denied Justin Trudeau’s reaction to their attack ads.
Trudeau’s retort—which you can experience in full on his website, on YouTube and, one assumes, if you sit next to him on the train—consists of the rookie Liberal MP staring unrelentingly into the camera and using his best Don’t Make Me Angry, You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry voice to open a thesaurus on Stephen Harper.
The Conservative government, he says, is “foundering and flailing, flapping and failing.” Foundering? Okay. But flapping? I mean, I know he needed the fourth f-word to maintain the integrity of the alliteration, and he wouldn’t want to give that up because it’s the most effective rhetorical device known to seventh-graders. But . . . flapping? Got a feeling Trudeau’s next video will be an emo ballad.
The ads also gave the new Liberal leader himself the opportunity to do the My Honour Has Been Wounded bit. “They want to make Michael Ignatieff the issue,” Michael Ignatieff said in a speech. “Well, friends, Michael Ignatieff is not the issue.”
This is impressive. In just 16 words, the Liberal leader succeeded in:
- making clear that anyone looking to vote for a federal leader who does not refer to everyone as “friends” is out of luck. Layton says it. Harper says it even more. Five solid weeks of this during a campaign and we all might be willing to give the Marxist-Leninists a look if their leader agrees to refer to us as “dudes” or “your bad selves.”
- demonstrating that while he’s officially been leader for less than a month, he is capable of effortlessly resorting to the third person. In fact, he does it so effortlessly that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones immediately signed him to a three-year contract as wide receiver. He’s such a natural that some feel Ignatieff may even be The Chosen One—the self-referential master who finally figures out how to speak in the fourth person.
Ignatieff has so far easily absorbed most of the Conservative abuse. He’s the ShamWow of Canadian politics. (But wait—there’s more!) He’s also going through that new-leader phase where he wants everyone to behave courteously during question period. He’s so keen on being polite that Liberal MPs can only inquire of ministers how their day is going and if their family is well. It’s adorable.
Ignatieff has even managed to avoid a backlash over his speech to the party convention in Vancouver, in which he vowed to cure every ill ever to menace the Canadian state, from inferior education for Aboriginals to unfair pay for women. He promised hope to small towns, farms and the North. He promised cash to every creator, artist and filmmaker. He promised to build a Canada with the best workforce in the world, the best researchers in the world and the very best bestness in the whole entire universe. Even now, prosecutors in The Hague are building a case against him for crimes against hyperbole.
He wrapped things up by declaring, “To a great people, given great leadership, nothing is impossible”—which prompted Liberals to cheer wildly and everyone else to go, “Uhh, did he actually just conclude his speech by referring to himself as great?”
I’m telling you: if Ignatieff doesn’t watch it, someone is going to put together an attack ad calling him arrogant.