08.08.2013 09:40 AM

Why writers/journalists make lousy politicians

One take is found here. It’s well done, but I think it misses the key point.

And I say this as (a) someone who ran and (b) someone whose writings figured in my loss: writers and journalists and commentators make for lousy candidates because they have left a written record that can be used against them.

One sunny day in the Summer of 2009, I stood in the boardroom in room 409-S on Parliament Hill, which – until Ignatieff came along – had always been occupied by Liberals or Conservatives, but never New Democrats. He approached me, and we chit-chatted.

The $4 million “Just Visiting” barrage hadn’t started yet, and Ignatieff was in a voluble mood. I wasn’t. He asked me what I was worried about. I pointed through the window of 409-S at the hulk of PMO’s Langevin, across the street.

“See there?” I said. “There’s a hundred little Tory bastards in there who have digitized and catalogued every single thing that you ever wrote or said on the BBC or anywhere else. And they’re getting ready to use it against you, and I don’t even know what they’ve got.”

Ignatieff was unconvinced. There’s a statute of limitations on such things, he suggested. “Some of that stuff is twenty years old!” he said.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “A good war room will take something that happened twenty years ago and make it look like it was said yesterday.”

And so they did. They took old Iggy statements and destroyed him with them. There is, as I later told disbelieving Liberals, no statute of limitations on “fucking stupidity.”

And that’s why writers/authors/journalists/commentators make lousy candidates: they have a past, they have a record, and it’s more easily-accessible than ever before. In order to be any good in the media game, of course, they have to say something that is controversial, at some point. And that’s where guys like me get them: we dig it up, drop it in someone’s lap, and their former colleagues/best buddies will go at it like sharks to chum dropped off the side of a boat. Guaranteed.

Wanna be a perfect candidate in the modern age? Don’t ever write or say anything.


  1. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    frmr disgruntled Con now Happy Lib says:

    I had never heard of Chrystia Freeland before your previous posting on the lady, July 27th…..and then the very next day came across this article in a Dec ’12 issue of Walrus magazine…….http://thewalrus.ca/embedded-with-the-01-percent/

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      Ronald O'Dowd says:

      You should have been watching McLaughlin Group.

  2. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Bruce A says:

    “Wanna be a perfect candidate in the modern age? Don’t ever write or say anything”.

    Probably true for everything now, whether it’s starting a career, getting an interview as a Wal-Mart greeter or trying to be a journalist. At least Sun News was denied ‘mandatory carriage’.


    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      Terry Kuny says:

      I have no problem with Sun News being denied mandatory carriage. I think that subscribers should if they choose, be allowed to pay for it as a specialty channel. If people want their neo-con echo chamber, let them pay for it. But I don’t know why it should be “mandatory”. If they cannot make racism, outrage, fear, bluster, and republican boot-licking profitable in Canada, so be it.

      • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
        Ronald O'Dowd says:


        Sun TV is not my cup of tea but if CBC is mandatory surely Sun should be as well.

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      Bruce A says:

      There are enough loudmouth, know-it-all’s in today’s media. It’s become too much and it gives me a headache. Whether it’s Don Cherry, Kevin O’Leary, Rex Murphy, Andrew Cohen, Prof. Ian Lee, Michael Coren, Ezra Levant, the Ford’s, Tim Powers, Jerry Agar or the other Public relations people from Power & Politics. It’s become a pride of lions fighting over a gazelle’s lifeless body. There’s always a lecture to deliver, a scolding sermon to administer.

      There’s always something wrong with somebody or something, somewhere. Always. Look no farther than the Conservative spin doctors who are MPs on the 5pm news shows.

      Winning the ‘debate’ is all that matters. Consider some of the names that Sun employs, “The Arena”, “The Battleground”. It’s about victory, not informing or enlightening the public. None of these people can present an argument, unless they’re in your face and barking at top volume, burning all the oxygen in the room for themselves. They’re the only ones that have an answer or solution to any policy question. It all boils down to faith and morality for these types of commentators or news organizations. It’s always the same answer–the free market–whatever the heck that is.

      It’s the relentless onslaught of right-wing zealots that has turned me off the public discourse because they’ve sucked the energy from political life and spat in the potatoes at dinner. If they can’t have it all, then nobody will. It’s about grinding things to a halt. I am as tired of being portrayed as an enemy by Sun News, as I am of Sun claiming they’re victims. What we need are more Steve Paikin’s and more programs like The Agenda. This way we might all learn something without ticking so many people off. It won’t happen and Mr. K is right, Sun won but at least they won’t be getting a ‘free lunch’ by slipping out the back. You savour your wins when they come.

      The fight’s not over but I’ll leave it to those who relish it. Things are going to get worse and making a living even harder. That’s the other thing that bothers me about Sun. They advocate that working people do even more with less, then claim they’re one of them. Why should they get handouts, when they condemn them in principle.

  3. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    robin says:

    There was an unfortunate misconception among those who courted Ignatieff and convinced him to leave his ivory tower and return to Canada to enter federal politics. The misconception was that an internationally renowned intellectual like Ignatieff would be “another Pierre Trudeau”. The critical difference was that Trudeau had grown up in Quebec and had been deeply involved in Quebec politics in the 1950s leading up to his entrance into federal politics in the early 1960s. Unlike Ignatieff, Trudeau’s writings pertained to current issues facing Quebec and Canada whereas Ignatieff was engaged in issues of interest outside Canada. Trudeau could feel the politics in the marrow of his bones.

    Two excellent examples are his handling of the 1970 October Crisis and his steadfast resistance to early engagement in the 1980 referendum; he knew his absence from frontline debate would capture the attention of Quebecers: “where’s Trudeau?” It worked.

    Eventually Levesque, who became increasingly frustrated by Trudeau’s absence in 1980 since he felt like Don Quixote fighting windmills, opened the door for Trudeau by publicly denouncing his family’s heritage and declaring that Trudeau wasn’t a “pure Quebecer” – instinct. Trudeau had it because he was immersed in Quebec politics and culture; Ignatieff didn’t and even a highly intelligent intellectual can’t learn this. I believe it is one of the reasons Trudeau appreciated Jean Chretien, they complimented each other. Both men had sharp political instincts. Chretien would go into the trenches as a street fighter and stir things up and aggravate the opponents while Trudeau would maintain an air of aloofness and indifference then strike when his opponent’s jugular is exposed. Yet, both men were passionate in their own way.

    Trudeau’s writings buttressed and clarified his views through publications like Cite Libre. It helped reassure English Canadians that he was a dedicated federalist committed to values similar to their own. “Federalism and the French Canadians” remains a must read for students of Canadian politics.

    Some of the same young Liberals who traveled to Montreal to chant “Vendu” at Jean Chretien during a leadership debate in 1990 were the ones who enticed Ignatieff to enter federal politics: all of them tone deaf, preferring image over substance with no appreciation for the profound nuances of Quebec politics or Canada, for that matter.

    Where Trudeau was solid oak; Ignatieff was just the bark and leaves with no inner core. Ignatieff is a great man who was led astray whereas Trudeau was a force of nature. Sometimes thoughtful writings about public policy can be an asset. Sadly, however, those days appear to be behind us.

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      Sean says:

      wow… robin, you really nailed it on every front with this post!

      • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
        robin says:

        Sean, thank you.

  4. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Andy says:

    In fairness, I don’t think Ignatieff lost because of Tory negative ads, just visiting etc. which may have worked only to the extent that they reinforced what everyone could already see; that he was cold and out of touch.

    He lost his first chance at power by turning down the Coalition, then lost his initial popularity by trying to bring down the government in Fall 2009 for reasons no one could fully understand, then lost the election in 2011 by running a terrible campaign in which he talked more about minor abuses of parliamentary procedure that no one understood or cared about than his own platform and got massacred in the debates by both Harper and Layton.

    Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque both started out as journalists with often damning paper trails. I tend to think that they succeeded by being better politicians than Iggy could ever hope to be.

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      Tim says:

      Man I hope that’s true. It’s pretty depressing commentary on the state of politics if it’s not.

  5. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    james Smith says:

    “Wanna be a perfect candidate in the modern age? Don’t ever write or say anything.”
    Guess that means decades of MP’s like the ones who make up the Dear Leader’s caucus.

  6. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Steven says:

    It’s all bunk until someone can explain why Rob Ford’s history and past utterances (inebriated or otherwise), criminal charges, etc., dont’ seem to have reduced his polling numbers and re-election chances for a city with a larger population than most of the provinces other than Ontario and Quebec.

  7. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    avatar681 says:

    This is why, we are moving to the post-personality parading of politics – complete unknowns (a prophet is not without honour, but in his own country), often groomed from birth, who are purely actors/models following tightly screened scripts, and the post-humanoid paradigm – skillfully animated avatars/robots who literally (pardon the pun) have no past.

    Ironically, this means that the real power will actually be the unknown ghost writers who put the words in these puppet’s mouths.

    In contrast, consider:

    Shelley said “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

    In The First Circle Solzhenitsyn wrote: “For a country to have a great writer is like having another government. That’s why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.”

    The Gospel of John records the powers-that-be: “Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”

    Powerful symbols still control human reality. A great writer has nothing and everything to fear.

    If you think you had problems with Ignatieff – a relative conservative – you have your public relations sanitized-for-your-protection work cut out for you:


    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      davidray says:

      so let me ask you
      what are we gonna do
      in a world without music
      and poets too
      we’re canaries in the coalmine
      breathing in the signs
      that warn you in time
      and tell you the truth

      but sadly, nobody is listening anymore
      because the hell with tomorrow
      when we’re living for today

  8. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Marco says:

    I voted for Iggy last election, my first time voting Liberal in maybe 25 years. I voted for them partly because I thought the Tory criminal code changes were draconian (and they shafted my friend Marc Emery by extraditing him to the US) and partly because I found the Tory attack ads on Iggy repulsive. For me, the attack ads worked in reverse. I voted for Iggy because I thought the ads were cheap shots. They don’t always work in favor of the attacker. Recently I read Michael’s brilliant Isaiah Berlin biography and if I had read it before the last election it would have confirmed me as an Ignatieff supporter. It is a marvelous biography of a man who I admire philosophically.

    I find the current leader, Justin Trudeau, interesting, but he gives me the impression of being an intellectual lightweight. Ignatieff is much more appealing to me than Trudeau because of the depth of his knowledge and thinking. But I’ll probably support Trudeau for favoring the decriminalization of marijuana.

  9. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Bill Templeman says:

    Ignatieff’s digital paper trail was not what ultimately torpedoed him (although it didn’t help him much, I confess). It was his glaring lack of retail political skills. There are brilliant civil engineers who I would not trust fixing the plumbing in my house. Before the debate in which Layton lambasted Iggy over the later’s attendance record in parliament, Iggy is reported to have dismissed suggestions that he practice for the debate…Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky and Sid Crosby all practice(d) intensely throughout their careers…this practice gave them the game skills to be winners. Iggy didn’t have the game skills, hence he was not a winner. mea culpa for the hockey analogy on a warm August evening.

  10. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I supported Michael and still think he resigned one post-election too quickly. Perception killed him politically. He unconsciously reinforced people’s negative biases, real or imagined. Jack got the beer, Stephen, the benefit of the doubt and Ignatieff, the proverbial shaft…

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      Sean says:

      Funny, I thought he should have resigned earlier… Like when he all but quit in the Spring of 2009. He chose to die on his knees rather than on his feet.

      • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
        Ronald O'Dowd says:


        We all have our view but they made a legitimate decision as a couple to call it quits on their schedule.

        They seemingly concluded what will be, will be and called it a day.

  11. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Scott Disher says:

    …René Lévesque…

  12. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    KevinB says:

    Warren, would your comments apply equally to Justin Trudeau? The Con war room has produced and broadcast two attack videos against Trudeau and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had even worse incriminating stuff ready for airing come the next election.

    The Cons have made an issue of Justin’s Quebec and French superiority mentality/beliefs. With two party leaders from Quebec it would seem natural and opportunistic to play the ethnic card to garner the vote outside of Quebec. They did it in one of the attack ads, highlighting Justin’s past utterances over Quebec superiority, and it’s positively poison politically during an election campaign.

    Somehow I don’t think that Justin’s ‘charisma’ can survive such an attack in English Canada during an election… do you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.