Prince Iggy had an oddly unconfident way of trying to look confident Wednesday at his first press conference as Liberal Leader. ("Prince" refers to his family background as Russian nobility.) He glanced anxiously sidewards at advisers and pushed overly jovially for questions in French. But I’ve often found this about him. He has the look and sound of a guy trying to figure out how he’d look and sound if he was the guy he’s trying to be.

The role has varied over the decades. An academic, a U.K. media heavy in the 1980s, a human-rights activist, a sort of hard-headed humanitarian endorsing torture and invasion during the Bush-Blair years, now the tough new Opposition Leader and PM-in-waiting – I’d say the worst is over, from the POV of Canadian voters trying to make the best of what gets served up to them. That would be his torture-lite/empire-lite phase.

Professional intellectuals always claim fierce independence; they have to, it’s their calling card. But what they really do is provide justifications for things that people in power like George Bush and Tony Blair have already decided they’re going to do. Basically, they’re hired guns and camp followers. Now those leaders are gone, their policies discredited, and Prince Iggy has bid a wan adieu to the theme he once preached: military intervention by the mighty in the name of human rights. It no longer suits the times, he wrote; not that he was wrong, but history has moved on. How convenient. Whatever.

Adieu is still adieu. The most sinister side of Iggy is in recession.

Speaking of which, economic issues are now centre stage. He’s never claimed expertise there, as he did on foreign policy or human rights, so he may be just fine on them.

He also suffers from bright boy syndrome. Its main symptom is pausing and looking around after you speak, to allow mummies and aunties to say, What a bright boy! Bob Rae and Jack Layton suffer from it, too. Stephen Harper doesn’t. He suffers from – oh, that would just be nasty speculation. George W. Bush, by the way, suffers from not suffering from bright boy syndrome.

The Bob Rae piece in this may be crucial. After quitting the leadership race, he could become a power behind the throne. He never does well on the throne, although he always looks good in the run-up. They’d be like Batman and Robin (or Bobin). Batman is too rigid, grim, self-absorbed in his destiny, too locked up in his carapace. That’s why he needs Robin, who’s boyish, at his side, devoted, loyal and not so self-enclosed. It explains Bob(in) at the 2006 convention, where he was the only leadership candidate not to declare who he’d vote for when he dropped off the ballot; he didn’t want to alienate his dear old friend. It was bad leadership but good partnership.

Neither is ideal separately, but who knows? As a team, they might rock. Plus, he can tell Iggy what Meech Lake, Charlottetown etc. were about, since they happened during the Dark Knight’s long absence. That would be invaluable.

Or are they Don Quixote and Sancho Panza? The lanky, dreamy hero and his realistic sidekick. Funny how both models fit. A guy desperate to give an impression he thinks will impress needs a grounded buddy along.

P.S. I’m really tired of people saying, "We didn’t vote for a coalition." That’s the definition of a coalition – something you didn’t vote for because what you did vote for didn’t work out on anyone’s side and you need a majority of votes to run a government.

If you had voted for a coalition, it wouldn’t be a coalition, it would be The Coalition Party or something like that. You didn’t vote to lose your job or get cancer or have that bridge washed out on your trip either. Unexpected, undesired things happen, so people improvise, they cope, they rig up new arrangements. Sometimes it’s even for the best.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.