Musings —06.23.2013 09:24 AM—
After big election upsets, like in British Columbia this year — or in Alberta last year, or federally the year before that — political people like to say knowingly, “Campaigns matter.”
Watching Rob Rae disappear down a parliamentary corridor on Wednesday — the arm of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau draped over his shoulders — we were reminded that campaigns matter, but they aren’t everything.
Rae leaves politics after two stints as a federal member of Parliament — first as a New Democrat, then as an interim Liberal leader.
In Ontario, he was the first NDP premier in provincial history. Whatever he ran for — whatever he campaigned for — he seemed to get. (The big exception being in 2006, when both he and Michael Ignatieff lost to Stephane Dion in the Liberal leadership race. Because Dion ran a better campaign.) Rae reminds us, however, that one’s political past matters as much as one’s political campaign. Sometimes more so.
Rae, and his Liberal acolytes, never liked to hear it. But it was true, nonetheless: Rae’s past determined his political future.
He was, first and foremost, a New Democrat.
Jean Chretien, whose three majority campaigns were run by John Rae, Bob’s brother, tried many times to turn Bob Rae into a Liberal. He did not succeed. Rae was, and would remain for many years, a committed social democrat.
While that decision didn’t hurt Rae in his bid to become Ontario premier in 1990, it doomed him to failure thereafter.
During his half-decade in power, Rae presided over a government that was spectacularly inept.
For year after year, it was buffeted by scandal, economic calamity and social strife. It was arguably the worst government in Ontario’s history.
The genuine fondness many Liberals had for Bob Rae could not erase that stain on his political resume.
The disastrous 1990-1995 NDP reign indelibly marked Rae.
Privately, Rae was often enraged when reminded of this. When far from media cameras and microphones, Rae seemed to be astonished, and angry, that his NDP past had followed him into his desired Liberal future.
His advisers, too. Time and again they were told by other Liberals that Rae could never be leader because of his NDP past and his record. Try as they might, Rae’s coterie could not get the party to turn the page. They were great campaigners, but not that good.
The majority of people who enter politics do not do so to enrich themselves — Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau being top-of-mind exceptions, at least with respect to their expenses — but because they are convinced they are called. They do so because they believe they have been blessed with the twin gifts of strategy and leadership.
Bob Rae was like that. Throughout his political career, he believed his talents, and his undeniable campaigning skills, should have been more than enough. He therefore made certain to turn out for all of the big contests. But the parade always went past him, and all of the medals went to Dion, Ignatieff and, now, Trudeau.
Despite all that, he will be fine. Unlike most politicians, Rae is a very good lawyer. His mediation and negotiating skills will be in demand. If he wants to be a diplomat, like his father was, Harper will not deny him the opportunity.
Liberals (and others) will seek him out for his counsel, or to appear on stages with them. The media will continue to love him, because he is fast with a quip.
But, as his political career dwindles to a close, Bob Rae stands as the embodiment of the notion that campaigns don’t matter as much as politicos believe they do.
What matters most is your record. And, in government, Rae’s was not good. It just wasn’t.
Campaigns matter? Sure.
But, mostly, in political yesterday walks political today and tomorrow.
Ask Bob Rae. He knows.