By James Travers, Toronto Star, December 21, 2010
In a populist era, Ignatieff is a throwback to a time when deferential voters looked to cerebral leaders for thoughtful solutions to complex problems. Liberals who fondly remember Pierre Trudeau had that philosopher-king model in mind when they lured Ignatieff home from Harvard.
Once here, he, they and Canadians discovered the imperfect fit. Politics, it turns out, ruthlessly punishes the abstract, out-loud thinking that academia and public-intellectual journalism reward. Opponents, it seems, have no qualms or problem projecting Ignatieff’s sudden discovery of public service as an unstable amalgam of patrician noblesse oblige and ambitious self-promotion.
Ignatieff is least convincing when pin-balling between past and present. “Country-boying,” as the Americans aptly label dumbing-down leadership to match coffee-shop sensibilities, sadly diminishes who he was as well as what he might reasonably become in the flattering glow that illuminates opposition leaders who survive to become prime ministers.
Thoughtful leaders with solutions to complex problems are still needed...although we have surrendered many good ideas to the whim of the political shellacking that many political "ideas" have taken, along with their authors, simply because the media and the public were not willing to either listen or provide some thoughtful imput themselves.
The fact that Mr. Harper gets away with calling global warming and the carbon tax, for example, "crazy" is a national disgrace. And the media has to be held, in part, responsible. Ditto for a now perhaps $20 billion on fighter jets, when the gap in incomes, and in hope and even in the potential literally for survival has never been more gaping...and the media whispers the infrequent column in protest, and then only abstractly.
It is the sycophancy of the media, linked to the sycophancy of the public that I would argue is disguised as a then veneer of populism to which Mr. Travers refers.
Ottawa media, especially, have been for far too long, sucking from the bottle of power. Some have found their reward in their Senate appointment, hardly a sign of objectivity and courage and of serving their constitutents with the depth and breadth of both information and insight warranted in so complex a tidal wave of "privatized" or "secret" government business.
While there are no simple answers to many of the complex problems faced by any contemporary government, being held accountable, and having the feet of those in power held "to the fire" of authentic public scrutiny starts with the information flow from the media.
Media sycophancy is not a new phenomenon; it is as old as the parliament buildings, and at least twice as treasured. Nurturing sources, keeping the talking heads talking, sticking to the conventional script...never daring to call for the head of any minister because, who knows what the repercussions might be.
And such behaviour must be supported and encouraged by their editors who supervise these scribes...in the most general sense of the word.
We need some heads to roll in Ottawa, and this government is replete with examples of which ones need to roll. And it starts with the head of the prime minister, in political terms. He runs a government that is addicted to newspeak and to protecting the interests of the right, the corporation and the enhanced power of the PMO and the media continues to call him "prime-ministerial" as the male host of Question period did, once again, on Sunday, in his vaccuous analysis that the next election would be based on the question, "Do you want to give Harper a majority government or not?"
Talk about simplifying the issues, to a soundbite...that's providing fodder to those who barely read the headlines.
And Ignatieff, while complex himself, and thoughtful and nuanced and cautious, perhaps even too much for his own good, is at least as good an alternative as the country has been offered since Trudeau left the stage, and, incidentally, he seems incapable of even attempting to manipulate the "fourth estate" which he obviously might have to begin, in order to survive.
Perhaps a little bite to his answers might put the media on notice that their refusal to get down and get dirty and call spades shovels is not acceptable. Ignatieff is not without substance and sometimes that substance needs a little acid, in order to be taken seriously.