Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Adlai Redux?

In 1952 and 1956 the U.S. Democratic Party nominated as its presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. He went on to lose both elections to Dwight D. Eisenhower. At the time, Stevenson was considered to be the “intellectual” candidate. He was cerebral and his speeches were hailed for their eloquence.

The problem for Adlai was that he could never connect with the average voter. One story goes that one of his workers told him that he was sure to “get the vote of every thinking man” and Stevenson is said to have responded, “Thank you but I need a majority to win.”

This alleged conversation should serve as a warning to Michael Ignatieff and anyone else for that matter who thinks that book smarts easily translate to electability. It is not enough to be called an intellectual or the cerebral candidate. It is not enough that Ignatieff has written many books and that he’s eloquent.

If the Liberal Party does elect Mr. Ignatieff – and I’m not suggesting this would be a disaster – the membership must do so with eyes wide open. The biggest knock on Ignatieff may not be that he supported the war in Iraq or that he supported torture or “torture light” as it has been called but may be that his perfect diction and intellectualism will hinder him from reaching the everyday voter.

He will be measured against Stephan Harper. Harper is bland, lacking in even minimum amounts of charisma with bad hair and the everyman’s paunch. BUT he is – at least to date – no fool when it comes to political matters and has shown a keen eye to the plusses and minuses of each decision to be made. Thus far he is no Joe Clark. I would suggest that Harper's political maturity comes from having been in Opposition, fought in the trenches and having lost a general election as Conservative Leader. He has learned from his mistakes. He finally has attained the office of the prime minister and he will not easily let it go even if it means jumping in bed with the NDP. No rookie is this prime minister. Dismiss it all you want but a reduction in the GST and cheques for babies from the federal government are popular and these measures will translate into votes.

So if the party elects Ignatieff, will it be electing an “egghead” as Richard Nixon once dismissively called Stevenson or will it be electing a battle hardened politico with keen political antennae? Consider this: the Liberal party has to accept that it may not win the next federal election and therefore it will be electing the Leader of the Opposition. Therefore, of all the declared candidates, who will be the one with Opposition experience capable of holding Stephan Harper accountable in the House? Who knows where the bodies are buried in government? All of a sudden Bob Rae looks better.

I know people are saying that the Liberals must pick a leader who can win the next election but Next Face has already written about a two election strategy and if that is the case, a neophyte Leader of the Opposition is not a tantalizing prospect.

The Guest Host


gritredordead said...

An excellent post. very thought provoking with a good historical perspective although it might be bit of a stretch to compare AS to MI.

decoin said...

Trudeau was an intellectual who viewed most Canadians as simpletons. He was also independently wealthy and never had to work a day in his life. He was elected several times as Leader so what is the concern with Ignatieff?

Chantal said...

Iggy is no Trudeau. Trudeau lived and worked in Canada for many years prior to entry into politics. Trudeau was politically experienced before he became leader.

Trudeau never would have supported the war in Irag. Finally, Trudeau had charisma, Iggy does not.

imspartacus said...

Interesting post with much merit. Perhaps there are a few possible nuanced answers to what you pose...
a) a human, common touch trumps intellectual gallantry most times... If that costs Ignatieff a point, it would likely also hit Dion, especially in the english speaking parts of canada; although Rae and Dryden are both highly intellectual, I think their deduction would only be half a point.
2) familiarity with the game... Dion regains that point and Rae picks up a point, too. Volpe, a true political animal, scores well here while Kennedy, Ignatieff and Hall-Findlay take a step back.
3) tested in opposition ... funny how this one scores, according to my book. Both Rae and Kennedy move a step ahead while the rest of the field stay put.
4) let's have a beer factor ... this is one that bounces all over the map and could be scored severly different by most people. Dryden scores big, as does Kennedy (his non-degree and steady but mild non-political speaking manner register well with common folk); Ignatieff, surprisingly, after just a couple of listens, holds up fairly well. Rae, too, has an easy charm that resonates at times. Hedy Fry even picks up a point.

I think its still early yet and we'll see the candidates in some different poses during the next month. By the time June-July rolls around, we'll have a good idea of who can get comfortable in leather chaps and a barbeque apron.

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