Rex Murphy May 27, 2011
Politics is not a generous game. Ambition almost, by definition, demands selfishness.
The career of Bob Rae, at least the latter day portion of it, inclines me to think neither of these observations apply to him.
Recall when Michael Ignatieff, or his backers, finessed the capture of the Liberal leadership, getting their guy past all challenges and past a real leadership race. Bob Rae, who alone could have kicked up a really justified storm over the matter, quietly and without public rancor put aside his own interest, and accepted Mr. Ignatieff as leader. Can’t think of very many who would have done the same.
And now – now that the Liberal party is no longer the sleek hip convertible that drives straight to 24 Sussex – now that it’s pretty close to the political equivalent of a write-off and a wreck, who volunteers for the job of taking it over, re-engineering it, and standing up for it in its worst days. Well, Bob Rae.
This is as much generosity as politics is likely to demonstrate.
Rae was twice – twice – turned down for the leadership of the Liberals. He was, in contrast to Stephane Dion or Mr. Ignatieff, the only one with real and tested political skills. Certainly he had more to offer that the latter in real world experience, and the former in political intuition and sheer mastery of communication. He’s one of the few natural Parliamentarians, knows Canadian politics from both the provincial and federal level, and has wandered through defeat to a larger view of the politics and the country.
But, Rae, having been turned down by the party, still agrees to take on the now unglamorous, largely thankless task of interim leadership. He could simply have walked off stage. Others have and would still.
It would have been interesting for Justin Trudeau, say, to have given it a whirl. If he really wanted to demonstrate how deep his commitment to the party is, and how it’s more than a mere inheritance. Picking up its leadership at the lowest point would have been — dare I say it — a challenge worthy of his father. But then, most of those Liberals who would have run for leader in a trice in happier times, are only too eager to hand over to the reins now that it’s shrunken, demoralized and on the ropes.
There are more ironies here than we can count. Rae would easily have done better than Ignatieff in the last election. If he’d been picked in the first post-Martin convention he might even have toppled Stephen Harper. The Liberals declined his skills when those skills would have been of maximum advantage. But he – with a sense of duty that almost seems old-fashioned – is here to pick things up again.
Such a rare thing in politics – I thought it worthwhile to underline it.
Rex Murphy offers commentary weekly on CBC TV’s The National, and is host of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup