The Tories’ New Attack Ads Are Full of Sound and Fury, but Might Just Signify Something
Just when I thought the verdict was basically unanimous regarding the Tories’ new crass, stupid, mean-spirited attack ads about Michael Ignatieff, I’ve come across someone who actually claims to like them, namely Steve Janke who blogs over at Angry in the Great White North. Worse yet, I think he might have a point.
First, however, it bears pointing out (again) that the ads are crass, stupid, and – what was it? Oh, yes, mean-spirited. One of them, so help me, is an attack ad that attacks Michael Ignatieff for running too many attack ads. Since this has to be seen to be believed, I offer a viewing here:
So what does Steve Janke like about the ads? Well, apparently they demonstrate that “Michael Ignatieff treats citizenship as some sort of trivial contrivance to be used to influence lesser minds”. That’s a histrionic way of putting it, but it’s clear what he means. The ignatieff.me website that goes with the ads, in particular, does raise some worthwhile questions about the chronically absent Ignatieff’s commitment to Canada.
Considering that I live in China and spent several years as a graduate student in America before moving to Beijing, I can hardly fault Ignatieff simply for spending a lot of time in the US and the UK. I really wouldn’t want to anyway. An expatriate can’t maintain the same day-to-day intimacy with his homeland as someone who actually lives there, but patriotism and commitment can extend across the miles.
However, that’s exactly where Ignatieff seems to have come up short, especially during his time in America. Would a man who thought of himself as Canadian really have said “it’s your country just as much as it is mine” (ignatieff.me mixes up the quote a bit, but that’s beside the point) to a US television audience? Janke has another, similar example, and goes so far as to accuse Ignatieff of having an entire “’we Americans’ schtick”.
It’s not that I regard Ignatieff as some kind of crypto-American. Rather, he comes across as such a committed internationalist that he really does, as Janke puts it, see citizenship as something close to a “trivial contrivance”. He devoted much of the first chapter of his book The Warrior’s Honor to talking up “moral universalism” as opposed to “the intuition that kith and kin have a moral priority over strangers”. By the end, he was awfully close to endorsing a Joycean desire to “fly free of the nets of nationality, religion and language”. That’s fine for a certain type of writer, but I want my prime minister to have a bit of respect for the “net” of nationality, and to afford considerable “moral priority” to Canada and its allies.
To be fair, The Warrior’s Honor appeared in 1997. Ignatieff’s most recent book is called True Patriot Love. Has he experienced some kind of change of heart since returning to Canada? Quite possibly, but I don’t think the Tories are wrong to ask Canadians to be skeptical.