Thursday, September 26, 2013

Margaret Wente on Ignatieff, power and Power

In one of the only bits of Margaret Wente’s column on Michael Ignatieff’s new book that doesn’t seem like a rehash of articles in the Toronto Star, the National Post and the Sun (there are 200 pages to choose from - why use the same quotes?), Wente describes Ignatieff's decision to enter politics like this:   “He wanted to stop being a spectator and be a player instead.  He longed to join the ranks of intellectuals like Vaclav Havel and Samantha Power, his Harvard pal who became Barack Obama’s ambassador to the UN…”.
The bit about Power is curious.  Ignatieff, (born 1947), was approached by Liberals to enter electoral politics in 2004.  By 2005, he'd made up his mind.
Samantha Power, born 1970, has never stood for elected office and was, like Ignatieff, a fellow writer/academic when Ignatieff decided to enter the fray and run for a seat and the Liberal leadership.  
While she later worked behind the scenes on Obama’s 2008 election campaign and served as a foreign policy advisor, Power was appointed UN ambassador in 2013, well after Ignatieff’s 2011 defeat and resignation.  How then, was Samantha Power an inspiration or model for Ignatieff’s decision to “stop being a spectator and be a player”
In fact, some people have argued that it went the other way:  “Power was influenced by the Canadian intellectual Michael Ignatieff”.  Given the age difference and timeline, this makes more sense.
Compared to the plagiarism problems last year, the fake Occupy protester and other similar issues, this head scratcher is no big deal, but it does speak to the value of Wente’s observations.  Rather than curious tossed off claims like these, it would have been nice to see that she’d read Ignatieff’s book and was able to pull out and discuss passages that hadn’t already been covered elsewhere - especially in a column dealing with hubris and over-rated public intellectuals.  

Update:   This also now appears at the end of the column:  

Editor's note: This corrects an earlier version which said Bob Rae threw his support behind Stéphane Dion in the final leadership ballot in 2006.

Further Update on that puzzling Editor’s Note (perhaps an example of a grudging correction whose aim is not to set the record straight, but rather to limit the damage of the initial error). 
Wente originally said Rae threw his support behind Dion to prevent Ignatieff from winning the 2006 leadership.  Now the “corrected” version reads, “During the 2006 Liberal leadership convention he refused to release his delegates to his old friend, with the result that Stéphane Dion, not Mr. Ignatieff, won the race.” 
Reports about the 2006 convention however, indicate clearly that Rae “released his delegates”.  This means, obviously, that he released his delegates to vote as they saw fit on the final ballot.  Had Rae “refused to release his delegates” as The Globe now claims, Rae would have been obliged to ask them to support a particular candidate (unless he said, “I release you to vote for anyone but Ignatieff,” something which is pretty well unheard of, and which, from what I can determine, he did not do). 
To be truthful then, that Editor’s Note requires correction.

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