I wandered over to Progressive Bloggers on Friday after a long week of radio and blogging and saw all kinds of negative assessments of Iggy's summertime tour across Canada and found myself disappointed, but not entirely in disagreement with what was being said about the Liberal leader. Yep, he absolutely has had an abysmal first eighteen months as leader of his party. Indeed, he has missed opportunity after opportunity, especially this past spring to pin down the Prime Minister for being an ideological hack who's on the opposite side of Canadians on most issues of import. Yes, Michael Ignatieff is a very centrist and rather conservative man -- not really in the mold of past Liberal leaders at all. And finally, it probably was a mistake to just anoint him leader without a democratic vote.
But what's the point of all this sniping other than to undercut Mr. Ignatieff just as he has gotten himself a bit of momentum? The past two months have been his best and if we want to see an end to the reign of the current Prime Minister we would be better off focusing on that. The summer tour which Gerald Caplan calls highly overrated was anything but. There are lots of ways to characterize it -- Iggy goes to summer school, Iggy learns to be a politician, Iggy learns how to play the game, Iggy learns how to kiss babies, flip burgers and drink bad domestic beer.
As you can plainly see there's a trend here -- Michael Ignatieff had a lot to learn about being at the head of a political party and selling himself as well as his ideas. He's not a natural leader which is not said as a criticism but as an acknowledgement that he's better suited to the role of a policy wonk. He's a smart, highly educated and decent man who has written seventeen books. Seventeen! Leaders lead and policy guys write seventeen books.
So, he had to go to school. He had to learn how to campaign. He had to learn how to listen and how to respond... as a politician not as a professor. Clearly he was deficient in these areas of his resumé. It's a heck of a lot easier to sit and theorize what you'd do as the head of a political party than actually be one. So he and the party undertook the task of his transformation into a politician (for better or worse) and while it's early yet to make any definitive assessments, it sure looks a lot better now than it did when Parliament went into recess for the summer. He has been thrust into the leadership role and there it stands. We don't know if his learning experiences are being highly overrated... yet!
I've watched and listened to his interviews all summer long and they've continued to get better. Last week on the CTV morning show he did exactly what he was supposed to with a softball question from Beverly Thomson. He spoke plainly and knocked it out of the park hammering Harper on four different issues when asked what most surprised him about what he heard from Canadians on his summer tour. Just like real politicians are supposed to do.
Now, it's going to get a lot tougher for Iggy -- the Tories while ideologues are not fools and have maintained their hold on power these past four years with a combination of guile and political street smarts outflanking the opposition at most every turn. But those missed chances Gerald Caplan spoke of -- they've not been missed, just waylaid until this session of Parliament. That's when the Liberal leader hopefully will present Canadians with his plan to restore democracy to Canada and tell us what his policies will be. Don't be surprised to find him firmly hugging the middle of the road -- that's just who he is. It's that or Harper.