I’m no Liberal, but the more I see and hear of Michael Ignatieff, the more I like him. Warren Kinsella has attempted to skewer him recently by quoting him outrageously out of context to suggest he favours torture. For example, where Ignatieff wrote “clear thinking about torture is not served…” Kinsella quotes “torture is not served...”
We know Kinsella. But others have made the same claim—that Ignatieff supports torture. Perhaps they are not intelligent enough to understand what Ignatieff has written; perhaps they are not honest enough to report it correctly. It matters little; because the average voter is not going to take the time to read what Ignatieff has actually written.
For what Ignatieff has written is a principled and honest rejection of both torture and coercive interrogation methods.
This is the eternal problem faced by candidates who are both bright and honest. The things he has written in the past are bound to be used against him, torn outrageously out of context by political propagandists like Kinsella. A good and honest thinker or academic must always give an opposing argument as clear and convincing a presentation as possible before disagreeing with it. So it is simple to quote whole paragraphs where he seems to be agreeing with almost anything, however scandalous.
Perhaps the loss of the best and brightest to this sort of political trickery, "ass-kicking," as Kinsella likes to call it, is not entirely bad. The talents that make a great thinker are not the same talents that make a great doer; the skills that make an academic are not the skills of a politician, nor should they be. Someone once observed of FDR that he had a "second-rate intellect, but a first-rate character." It is character, more than intellect, that matters in a politician.
On the other hand, true intellectuals as politicians have not always been that disastrous. I think of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Pierre Trudeau, Benjamin Disraeli, Woodrow Wilson, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vaclav Havel, or indeed Winston Churchill. Not bad company. Though I note many of them only made it into power due to extreme circumstances; intellectuals do better at exercising power than at winning it.
It's a pity if we lose a man like Ignatieff.