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Iggy pops up 

Editorial by Bruce Wark

Oh my god, here comes Iggy. The beetle-browed brainiac suddenly had the Liberal leadership crown plunked on his pointy head last week. Now it’s official. Michael Ignatieff is prime-minister-in-waiting. Yes, Ignatieff, champion of American Empire, cheerleader for Bush’s invasion of Iraq, booster of the war in Afghanistan and, although he denies it, intellectual justifier of state torture.

Here comes Iggy, leader of her Majesty’s loyal opposition, journalist, professor, author, broadcaster, filmmaker, playwright, arts critic, scion of Russian nobility, son of a prominent Canadian diplomat, nephew of the brooding philosopher George Grant and disciple of Isaiah Berlin, the celebrated English sage who divided great writers and thinkers into hedgehogs (who have one big idea) and foxes (who have many).

Iggy penned a biography of Berlin in clear, elegant prose, bristling with compelling ideas and brimming with love and respect. The book received wide acclaim as did several of Iggy’s 15 other tomes. His family memoir, The Russian Album won a Governor General’s Award. His novel Scar Tissue based on his mother’s harrowing descent into dementia was short-listed for two British literary prizes. His study of NATO’s so-called humanitarian bombing of the former Yugoslavia, Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond won the George Orwell Prize. In the meantime, Iggy taught at leading universities including Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. He wrote for influential newspapers and magazines and hosted British TV programs including an award-winning BBC series on late 20th century nationalism. Yes indeed, our prime minister-in-waiting has an impressive CV.

Unfortunately however, he may also be another Liberal right-winger, a Robin Hood-in-reverse like Chretien and Martin who shredded the social safety net for the poor and middle classes, then handed out tax cuts to corporations and the rich. Now, Stephen Harper is planning several more rounds of tax cuts. The Liberals are supporting Harper’s tax cuts and Ignatieff is unlikely to change their direction. During a talk at Boston University in 2005, Iggy mused that while taxes finance good things such as social programs and public transportation, taking tax dollars out of people’s pockets is a form of coercion and “all forms of coercion are intrinsically morally problematic.” Ignatieff’s comments were a far cry from the idea once espoused by Liberals that progressive taxation not only finances public programs that benefit everyone, it also redistributes income from richer to poorer to achieve greater equality, social justice and peace. After decades of relentless right-wing propaganda, that’s considered rank heresy. Taxes are evil or, in Iggy’s terms, they’re morally problematic forms of coercion. You can just hear fat cats everywhere applauding the pointy-headed professor.

And that’s the trouble with our PM-in-waiting. He’s usually on the side of the powerful. Ignatieff fervently supported Bush’s invasion of Iraq, then when Bush’s illegal war turned to shit and tens of thousands were dying, he claimed he’d been blinded by his humanitarian concern for the plight of Iraqi people. He had mistakenly believed, he said, that Bush was carrying on the grand American tradition of sowing the seeds of democracy and peace. On the use of torture, he was equivocal, finally pronouncing that while it was morally wrong, it could yield valuable information, save innocent lives and besides, he had to admit that most people were in favour of it. So much for supporting the UN convention that outlaws torture under any circumstances.

Admittedly, it may be too early to judge the new Liberal leader. Political circumstances may force the Liberals to bring Harper down and to implement their coalition with the NDP. And, the economic meltdown may force a coalition government led by Ignatieff to start spending more on government programs that benefit all of us, not just the rich. To adapt Isaiah Berlin’s theory, Iggy may be forced to shed the political hedgehog’s one grand idea that governments should step aside and let big business rule and adopt the fox’s many ideas for improving the lot of everyone.

What do you think of Iggy? Let Bruce know at brucew@thecoast.ca.

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