In today's Times Eric Konigsberg pretzels himself praising the Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff in an article entitled Running on Book Sense and Charm. It's in the Fashion & Style section, strangely, which perhaps explains why Konigsberg is so unabashedly fawning. Or perhaps the explanation is Ignatieff is actually the cat's pajamas.
As Konigsberg writes,
[Iggy] had spent most of the preceding four decades making a name for himself in both countries - writing essays on the world's war zones for The New Yorker, The New Republic and The New York Review of Books; writing novels and screenplays; enjoying popularity as a television-show host in Britain and a regular at the Groucho Club; and teaching at Harvard and Cambridge universities.
His novel Scar Tissue was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Both Martin Amis and Michael Palin were at his wedding (to the well-named Hungarian book publicist Zsuzsanna Zsohar). Now he's the leader of the minority Liberal Party but he's thisclose of leading that party to majority victory in the upcoming months and becoming the country's PM.
Also, Ignatieff's pedigree is awesome:
His father, George Ignatieff, was a Canadian diplomat, and his grandfather and great-grandfather were both Russian counts who served as cabinet ministers in the czarist government. His mother's brother, George Grant, was a famous political philosopher.
But Ignatieff isn't all just fiction and fluff. His non-fiction oeuvre includes my personal favorite, The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience, which has a great section about neutrality and the Red Cross, and Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond, as good a text of that NATO intervention as any.
But the Barack comparisons are overblown. Both men have lived abroad for part of their lives. Both men are hip and "with it." Both men have had a vertiginous ascent in the political world, sometimes criticized as unwarranted. But Ignatieff has a better cognate in America than POTUS: Samantha Power. Like Professor Power, who has recently accepted a position in the Department of State (senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council, according to Hurriyet), Ignatieff served the director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. (Power was the founding executive director of the Center from 1998-2002; Ignatieff was the director from 2001-2005.) Both Power and Ignatieff have published countless articles on genocide and human rights violation in magazines like The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. But have a somewhat self-deprecating sense of humor and openness that, sometimes, gets them in trouble with a quote-hungry subtlety-stripping media. But most importantly, both started as public intellectuals first and only entered the political world second.
So is Ignatieff Canada's Obama? No, he's not. But is that a bad thing? No, because he's Canada's Power.
CORRECTION: A Canadian journalist tells us we made a big Canadian civics class error when we said Ignatieff is "the leader of the minority Liberal Party but he's thisclose of leading that party to majority victory in the upcoming months and becoming the country's PM." In fact, our Northern neighbor friend says "Iggy is the leader of the Liberal Party, yes, but the party is the Official Opposition. The Conservatives currently form a minority government." We regret the error, which we do not understand.