Friday, December 10, 2010

Ignatieff: an enigma in search of a national cause and "connection"

By Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, December 10, 2010
At year end, the Liberals make up a more constructive official opposition than 12 months ago and — in case it is any comfort to them — the polls show that the second-place position in the House is very much theirs to lose in the next election.
Ms Hebert's column makes much of the isolation of Michael Ignatieff, comparing him to Kim Campbell, as a recent political leader whose fortunes were very short-lived. What the future holds, no can can say. What the current whafting winds out of Ottawa seem to indicate is that the electorate is not easily convinced to give either Harper or Ignatieff a majority in the next election, and of the two, certainly Ignatieff's hold on his party's reins is much less secure than Harper's on his party's reins.
With the increasing significance of the "media," especially the television, in the political fortunes of political leaders, there is a level of "visual and auditory literacy" that has become an integral part of voters' perceptions. And that capacity to "read" the images from the dots flickering on the screen results from generations of hours in front of the "boob-tube". And, while the tv was considered a "cool"medium by McLuhan, nevertheless, the audience wants to "connect" with those who aspire to political office.
Harper's woodenness, being softened by his recent renditions of popular songs at the Conservative Christmas party, is well known, but it is Ignatieff's presentation as "unreachable" and "unknowable" and somehow "different" from the rest of us that competes with Harper's insensitivity.
There is a kind of unconscious awareness of our own capacity for insensitivity that seems to render Harper slightly more "like us" than Ignatieff's hands reaching into the camera, in question period, almost begging for our acceptance. He is clearly not lacking in smarts; he is clearly versed on the issues; he has worked very hard to establish himself as a credible leader. Nevertheless, there is a certain "withdrawal" that he almost evokes from others, although he is not doing anything specific to make him "unlikeable".
I have never met the man, and likely will never meet him. Nevertheless, we are all expected to get to know our political leaders, and our best means is their words and mannerisms as we are fed them through the flat screen. And, from what I can "see" and "sense" his leadership of the country, which could be nothing short of sensational, seems, regretably, to be outside the orbit of this lifetime. I want the Liberal Party to win the next election, and I will work very hard to help that goal to be achieved. We need a change in government; however, with the degree of cynicism and the lack of "connection" with Ignatieff among ordinary people, it is not difficult to see another Harper minority, followed by another Liberal leadership race....
Can Ignatieff seize an important issue, galvanize his troops around his marshalling of the "case," and link that issue to the narrative of differences he would bring to government in a way that captures the imagination of the Canadian people? Or has that imagination atrophied, or even entropied, over the last few years by Ottawa's failure to provide leadership of which Canadians can be and are proud?

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