Monthly Archives: September 2009
I would like to think that being “progressive” entails a whole series of critical renegotiations (one’s relation to capitalism, to democracy, even to politics itself) as well as certain political demands (electoral reform, justice, civil rights etc.). Yet, I’ll settle for this one. To all self-styled “progressives” who vote Liberal, please re-examine your assumption that the Liberals are in fact “progressive”. That may be the most singularly dangerous piece of unquestioned self-evidence circulating out there. Thanks to Jan from the Bruce for drawing my attention to this excellent piece exposing the federal Liberals led by Ignatieff as hollow and false champions of the “Left”.
On Friday, the Liberal Party of Canada threw down the gauntlet and submitted a vote of no confidence in the minority government led by Conservative PM Stephen Harper. Many progressives might think “why not?” Harper is, after all, a wolf in wolf’s clothing, managing to run a neoconservative, neoliberal government with voter support of his party in the mid-30 percent range, and all the rest of Canada to his left.
Unfortunately, Harper’s challenger, Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, is just as much a wolf, but poses a much greater danger to the Left because he dresses as our shepherd…
Until Friday, Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals had supported the Conservative government in 79 consecutive confidence votes since 2007. That wouldn’t be so concerning if the Liberals had been winning major concessions for progressives, but no such luck.
At a basic level, Ignatieff has acted in ideological accord with the Conservatives. Ignatieff is short on details of how he would have behaved any differently than Harper, even when agitating for an election. If he is a progressive at all, it is in hindsight only: whether in the States or in Parliament, Ignatieff goes along when policy is being made, denies problems as they occur and complains unconvincingly about the consequences.
On the bright side: it’s not like it was a top Liberal making the salient point that “Michael” is a little too Narcissieff.
Narcissieff in the mirror of politics
Judgment day: Michael Ignatieff will make a seriously bad candidate
Perhaps Michael Ignatieff’s views weren’t as sinister as they once seemed. When, for instance, he wrote in favour of what’s been called torture lite, which means torture that doesn’t leave marks; or supported the war on Iraq, which he halfheartedly recanted; or the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which really only applies to the right of powerful nations to attack weak ones; or selective bombing of the Balkans in the 1990s. Maybe he just had a twerpy impulse to follow where those in power – the Clintons, Bushes or Blairs – led.
So let’s turn to the consequential question for Canadian politics – not what he thinks but how he’ll campaign. This was always the doubtful element: Can he lead the Liberal Party to victory? Remember that he never won the leadership. He began as a strong favourite, frittered that away and lost to Stéphane Dion. Then he seized power last winter without having to face challenges from Bob Rae or Dominic LeBlanc. He has yet to show he can win.
My own sense is that he’ll make a seriously bad candidate, due to what I’d call his narcissism. This isn’t so much about adoring yourself, as being so self-absorbed that your sense of how others react to you goes missing. A therapist I know says it usually involves “a great deal of self-referencing. A real other doesn’t exist except as an extension of themselves.” This won’t be useful when you’re asking for people’s votes, against other candidates.
For instance: “I’ve been lucky in my life to meet famous people.” And, “I just pick up the phone and call some of my friends in his [the Obama] administration.” As if we should be impressed, or envious. He recounted how witty he and the Prez got with each other (“He said, rather amusingly …”). And how the President complimented him on things he’d written, which “made this particular Canadian author feel pretty good.” That stuff may go down well with adoring audiences at author readings but, in politics, it’s better to have your flunkies leak it for you. We’re not at Harbourfront any more, Toto.
He told CBC Radio’s Eleanor Wachtel that politics is “the most incredible adventure of all the adventures I’ve had in my life. … It’s been unforgettable no matter how it turns out.” But for people in the country, how it turns out is what counts; he can save all the savouring for his next memoir. He told Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker: “I’ve been a spectator a lot of my life but this is about acting. … You have to be ready for combat, and you have to lead troops.” It’s not that it’s wrong to reflect on life’s twists and turns, but he seems so captivated and preoccupied. Instead of revelling in the fab experience of being an actor, how about just Doing Something?
It’s this misplaced emphasis that suggests an emotional tone deafness. The narcissism makes you oblivious to signals sent by others about how they perceive you, leading, one fears, to bad times on the campaign trail.
It’s not the same as egomania, which can work in politics. Egomania requires you to be aware of others in order to dominate or manipulate them. With narcissism, you barely notice them, you bask in your own presence and assume everyone does. Even Stéphane Dion didn’t seem narcissistic. Just arrogant: a guy who felt so superior, he was sure everyone would follow his lead. But narcissism blocks the reality of others, hence the stream of off-putting remarks.
Narcissieff himself seems to have a sense of this. “What is it that a great politician knows?” he asked Adam Gopnik. “I’m trying to learn that.” You might expect him to have had a clue before running to be PM, but at least he’s asking. Trouble is, a narcissistic makeup can stand in the way of finding an answer. It cuts off the natural ability to pay attention to others. He looks, someone said recently, as if he’s Voguing a politician.
So, yesterday Warren woke up to find that the following had appeared in the Hill Times:
“He’s [Ignatieff] put absolutely nothing on the table. It’s just empty rhetoric,” a top Liberal who supported Mr. Ignatieff (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ont.) in both of his leadership campaigns told The Hill Times last week. “It’s not enough to say, ‘That in good times we’re going to bring forward the progress…’ If he goes into an election and doesn’t really have anything substantive to put on the table, we’re looking at a massacre.”
Perhaps I should be posting on craigslist or tweeting this, but would someone kindly point me in the direction of an intelligent Liberal blog? It’s as if pursuing the centre of the political spectrum necessarily requires limited or middling intelligence. The problem with middling intelligence (shared by the likes of Kinsella and his Sancho Panzas (Cherniak, Bowie, et al) is that it’s just enough intelligence to embolden them, but sadly not quite enough to allow them to know better.