Saturday, May 23, 2009

Post I never thought I'd write: Michael Ignatieff is my homeboy

The CBC has an excellent letter from an expat grad student in England about the Conservative Party of Canada's attacks on Michael Ignatieff for being a) a successful intellectual and b) living outside the country for many years before returning to enter politics. By all means read the letter, then have a quick scan of the comments and ask yourself why anyone with a top notch education and contacts abroad would want to return to a country that is so full of ignorant, provincial knuckledraggers. The woman is obviously a patriot, just don't tell her about the Blogging Tories and Small Dead Animals and she might still come back one day.
What I really want to talk about are the idiotic attack ads by the CPC, which attack Ignatieff on everything except substance. He must really scare them. And he should.
A quick look at Michael Ignatieff's bio shows him to be an academic and public intellectual of the highest caliber who has held posts at the most prestigious institutions in the English-speaking world. That those institutions happen to be located outside Alberta and mostly outside of Canada is hardly his fault, as in show business and sports, you go where the work is. Yes, one can be a highly respected public intellectual on the world stage while living in Canada, but there are only so many jobs for such people.
Crapping on Ignatieff for spending his career at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard instead of the University of British Columbia is like criticizing Phil Esposito for spending his hockey career with the Bruins and Rangers instead of staying with the Sault Greyhounds, or slamming Dan Ackroyd and John Candy for not sticking with Second City in Toronto.
One of the commenters on the CBC site criticized the author of the letter, described as a Rhodes scholar and Ph.D candidate at Oxford, calling her "a snob" and claiming the author "thinks she's better than us." As a Rhodes scholar, she is certainly demonstrably smarter then the cementheaded commenter. She is certainly more open minded, almost certainly more well-travelled, better-read and more cosmopolitan, and probably has "qualities of truthfulness, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship; exhibition of moral force of character and of instincts to lead and to take an interest in one’s contemporaries," but then to the audience of resentful, embittered, small minded, petty bourgeois, know-nothings that the Conservative attack ads are pandering to, none of those things are desirable.
I'm not a big fan of Ignatieff and his running for office in 2006 with his eyes firmly on the Liberal Party leadership was unquestionably a bit opportunistic. So was Stephen Harper's channelling of western Canadian resentment in helping form the Reform Party. So was his departure for the National Citizens Coalition when it became evident that Preston Manning wasn't going to turn the party over to him. While Ignatieff at least got himself elected to parliament before seeking the Liberal leadership in 2006, Harper decided to try for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance Party when Stockwell "Doris" Day looked weak in 2002 and after an ugly campaign won the leadership. Then he pushed Ezra Levant out of the way to run for Preston Manning old seat in Calgary.
Ignatieff is criticized for considering a return to Harvard is his bid for election in 2006 didn't work out. He got elected and stayed in the House, despite losing in his first campaign for party leader, and was re-elected again in 2008. If he had not won a seat in parliament in 2006, Ignatieff would have continued on at the University of Toronto for a least another year as visiting professor and senior fellow at the Munk Centre for International Studies. After that, he might have run for parliament again, or he might have returned to his career as a scholar, living wherever the work took him as he pleased.
Harper, on the other hand, has a history of quitting when things don't go his way. He quit the Liberal party because he didn't like the National Energy Program (He was working in Alberta for Imperial Oil at the time). He quit the Progressive Conservatives a few years later after going to work for a Mulroney government backbencher because they didn't end the NEP fast enough to suit him. He quit the Reform Party when he couldn't get Preston Manning to step aside as leader and let him run things along more Straussian ideological lines. He quit the National Citizen Coalition a little less than four years later when he saw a chance to grab the leadership of the Canadian Alliance party after using the NCC to undermine Stockwell Day for a year. Once leader of the Alliance party, he devoted all his energy to co-opting and absorbing the Progressive Conservative Party to try to present a united right wing front.
If he fails to win a majority government next time around, will he quit Canadian politics? If some conservative think tank down south like the Heritage Foundation offers him some primo wingnut welfare job to push economic integration or some other neo-con pie in the sky, do you think he'll hang around Calgary scanning the want ads? I'm sure with his hard won Masters degree, Liberty University could find a job for him teaching remedial English or something, but he's not really qualified to do much else. Aside from the mail room at Imperial Oil nearly 30 years ago, he's never really done anything outside of politics and think tank work.
While Ignatieff was working outside of Canada, he made no secret of his Canadian-ness and we as a nation were happy to call him one of our own. He may have referred to Britain as his "adopted nation" a few times in the 20+ years he lived there or used the rhetorical flourish of "We Americans" when writing for an American audience, but unlike Conrad Black, Wayne Gretzky, Michael J. Fox and Pamela Anderson he never became an American or British citizen. He has been a Canadian all along. More importantly, he has not publically badmouthed his country to foreign audiences, (which as we know from conservatives' descriptions of Bill Clinton organizing anti-war protests in England while he was a student there during the Vietnam War is high treason or something) unlike Stephen Harper, who had this to say to a U.S. think tank less than a year after leaving parliament the first time:
"Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it"
"If you're like all Americans, you know almost nothing except for your own country. Which makes you probably knowledgeable about one more country than most Canadians"

As I said, I'm not a big fan of Ignatieff, mostly for his original positions on the Iraq War and torture and for yanking the rug out from under the idea of an NDP-Liberal coalition government. He is a bit conservative for my tastes, but I think he'd make a much better prime minister than any of the other options on offer.
His job history and personal story are nothing if not enviable and his time abroad is a feature, not a bug. Ignatieff has done more than simply teach at the world's finest universities. He has been a broadcaster, a filmmaker, a journalist, a writer of non-fiction and fiction alike and travelled the world. Unlike Stephen Harper, who's last real job was in the Imperial Oil mailroom and who didn't even have a passport until he entered the House of Commons. Harper graduated high school in 1978 and went work for Conservative MP Jim Hawkes in 1985 and has been out of the job market ever since.
Before entering electoral politics, Ignatieff wrote prize-winning books on human rights and foreign policy, delivered the Massey Lectures and had a novel short-listed for the Booker Prize. Stephen Harper has supposedly been working on a book on hockey for longer than anyone can remember and wears sweater vests to try to make us think he's human.
Only the complete "morans" who make up the current electoral base of modern conservatism would consider being well-educated, widely-travelled and highly accomplished bad things. They get the leaders they deserve.
And as for the notion that spending time, even a long time, outside the country make one any less Canadian --I've been living in Japan for dozen years and, like Ignatieff, the place I miss most is Algonquin Park. If you think I'm somehow less Canadian because of where I live (and I'd move back tomorrow if the right job opportunity presented itself, but you go where the work is) or who I married or because I eat sushi more often than poutine these days, you are just plain wrong and can kiss my fat, maple-syrup loving, multicultural ass. I may be less engaged than I once was in the daily cut and thrust of Canadian politics, but I'd venture to guess that I still pay more attention than most in the Great White North. That must be true, because you sure as hell wouldn't catch me voting for Stephen Harper.

Crossposted at the Woodshed

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