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intellectual elitism and the Canadian voter

This Magazine Staff

Thanks to D.B. Scott for tipping me off to this Jim Travers column in the Toronto Star, which pushes Michael Ignatieff as the saviour of Canadian politics. Why the saviour? It’s his brain, stupid.

I find something terribly troubling about this analysis, and not just because I am actively working to defeat Ignatieff in Etobicoke-Lakeshore by supporting his opponent, Liam McHugh-Russell.

Here’s what I mean. Some quotes:

…there is urgency in attracting back to politics thoughtful people who don’t need the job, pension or spotlight.

Why, exactly? I mean, I sort of get what’s being said—fewer immediately personal motives should mean greater “good for the country” motives. But how do we measure any of these things? How do we measure Ignatieff’s motives, and why should we assume that just because he’s smart, his motives are pure and good? Perhaps he has immediately personal motives involving his intellectual ego and a very inflexible vision he has for the country’s future. Would these be less bad than the motives of someone who wants to be MP because it’s a good job with a pension, and who is committed to doing a great job for her constituents?

Nevermind that Travers’ claim implies that Ignatieff’s opponents are not thoughtful, need a job with a pension and crave the spotlight. I doubt this is true of any of Ignatieff’s toughest opponets in the riding. Let’s give Ignatieff his job and Harvard pension—who’s to say he is not seeking a spotlight? There’s more fame in being a well-published academic than there is in being a well-published academic who is also Prime Minister of Canada? This point of Travers’ is a mess.

Then, there is the silence in the argument over the future of federalism that only a voice that is passionate and reasoned can break.

Really? No-one with passion and reason is leading the debate over Canada’s future right now? It seems to me Gilles Duceppe is doing an excellent job leading this debate, and he is both passionate and reasonable. That most of English Canada disagrees with him is a problem, for sure… for English Canada. It is Ignatieff’s own chosen party who has dropped the ball for English Canada. Again, we are asked to believe because he has degrees on his office wall in Boston, we should ignore the work of his party and elect him?

Years of nuanced writing on ethnicity got bent out of shape while his support for the Iraq war remains awkward to explain. And even for an academic who spends so much time in the streets below the ivory tower, the rough introduction to retail politics orchestrated by the Prime Minister’s operatives left campaign damage and personal bruises.

I have already given Ignatieff the benefit of nuance on ethnicity, as most, um, thoughtful people have, but what a fantastic dismissal of his Iraq policy opinions. Awkward to explain. Yeah, awkward. I should say so. When your country clearly opposes a war you supported, and you are asking for votes, that’s pretty awkward. Best not to talk about it (cue Ignatieff’s leaflet, which mentions his Iraq opinions exactly never)—now there’s the intellectual honesty one looks for in a professor, I mean politician.

As well, here we have the now familiar argument that all the crap surrounding Ignatieff’s parachuting-in was caused by some conspiracy of Martin’s operatives afraid of the smart new guy. Is Ignatieff his own man or not?

…he proselytizes for a central government strong enough to bind the federation and flexible enough to respect the provinces.”

Is proselytizes really the verb Travers wants here? But my real question is, other than Duceppe, who isn’t recommending a central government strong enough to bind the federation and flexible enough to respect the provinces? Oh, I see, Ignatieff can use bigger words to make this argument. Well, by God, let’s vote for the smart guy then. More please.

In politics, reach and grasp are separated by the gritty logistics of self-interest, organization and timing. Of the three, Ignatieff is only rich in the third.

And we know this because…? Again, why is any self-interest on the part of Ignatieff inconceivable?

Even before getting to the part where Travers says Ignatieff would raise Parliament’s collective IQ, I find his argument to be facile intellectual elitism of the very worst kind. It seems to be the only argument recommending Ignatieff. Hardly worth my vote.

There seems to be this weird underground movement out there that wants to see Ignatieff as the next Trudeau. Granted, there isn’t an “intellectual” or “thoughtful” person in Canada who does not relish the memory of Pierre Trudeau because of that man’s smarts and his position in the world of the intellect. But Trudeau also spoke truth to power, as far as I can tell, clearly and consistently. This is a quality I find Ignatieff lacks, and lacks hard.

To borrow an Americanism—I knew Pierre Trudeau, and you, sir, are no Pierre Trudeau.

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