Oh, poor baby. Michael Ignatieff hasn’t had enough attention in The Globe and Mail since he came home to run for leader, including an editorial this week. He had to write a letter carping about it yesterday. Take yer damn lumps. I hear from readers who’ve been writing to The Globe since the dawn of time and never, or once, max, get a letter published. It’s their proudest moment. They introduce themselves at parties saying how one letter was printed in The Globe.

Michael Ignatieff has no idea how favoured he is; what it means not to get your voice out there. That’s him in a nutshell: no common touch. The heart of a common touch, politically, is knowing how voiceless most citizens feel and are; not whining over that mean editorial about you.

After all the promo The Globe has done for him (37 articles and 15 photos since January 1, but who’s counting), he should belt up and be grateful. C’mon Mikey, they hoist you up today so they can trash you tomorrow, you’re the guy with the media savvy, you keep telling us. A thin-skinned pundit is a joke.

Sheila Copps happened to speak last week to a class I teach each spring at the University of Toronto. She drove from Ottawa and back, by herself, same day, in return for mileage, though the week before she’d been belle of the ball at a big Liberal bash honouring her. She seemed baffled, and a tad ticked, at the mighty media focus on Mr. I. She ran for leader twice without ever being treated that seriously, though I’d say she even now has a greater public presence than Paul Martin, wherever he may be.

Lots of people say it’s because Mr. Ignatieff was chosen by David Smith to be Liberal leader. By who? Ah, that may be the rub. David Smith is a Liberal bagman and, as night follows day, senator. He was a big backroom presence in the Chrétien years, as Keith Davey was in the Trudeau era.

Yet Paul Martin’s main adviser, David Herle, said he hoped to become known as the Keith Davey — not the David Smith — of our time. Maybe Senator Smith felt hurt and decided to make his mark by bringing in a new Trudeau. Do I have evidence for this? No. Sometimes you just go with the ring of truth.

But is Michael Ignatieff a new Trudeau? Hardly. Anyone who says so misses what worked for Pierre Trudeau in 1967: his insouciance, which was part of the zeitgeist. It was the era of revolution, the Beatles, Dylan, anti-war, anti-authority, cultural cheekiness. Pierre Trudeau embodied that for Canadians. The Ignatieff version offers none of it.

He supported the U.S. war in Iraq.

I’m not saying Mr. Ignatieff is a lot worse than all the other leadership candidates whom he is, bizarrely, ahead of. I am saying he’d probably never get elected once he was leader and voters got a good look at him. That’s because he seems full of himself and ordinary people are put off by that, even if journalists and party heavies aren’t.

The standard Ignatieff response to criticism is, Do you know who I am? How can you even suggest that a human rights professor would be in favour of torture? He instructed a Guardian reporter: “The one thing you should convey is that this is not some intellectual horrified by rough politics. I’ve been shot at.” Tough guy, eh?

He told students that he’d backed the Iraq war because he’d seen what Saddam did to Kurds and Shiites and “I decided then and there that I’d stand with them whatever happened. I’ve stuck with them ever since.” What else was he going to do? Suddenly announce he didn’t care any more? The issue wasn’t his earnest concern for Kurds, it was his judgment about that particular war.

Why are journalists so hot for the guy? Well, some are impressed by what looks like braininess and don’t distinguish sounding smart from being smart. Others like the idea that he’s sorta one of them.

But they’ve been dependably wrong for 25 years. They said John Turner had the “royal jelly” in 1984. They were enthusiastic about Kim Campbell. That same election, they agreed Jean Chrétien was “yesterday’s man.” They liked Stockwell Day, at the start. And of course, what’s-his-name, who was PM till he suddenly vanished. He was a real juggernaut, they said. They’re great at picking losers.


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.