The Commons: Rise up

’We’re in a funny place in this election campaign right now’

Michael Ignatieff had been speaking for something like an hour, without so much as a sip of water, pausing only to let members of the audience pose questions for him. Eleven hours earlier he’d been in Orleans, standing in a family’s garage, between their snowblower and their barbecue, to explain how a Liberal government would help families just like this take care of sick and aging loved ones. Now he was standing in the middle of a hotel ballroom in Sudbury, surrounded on all sides by rows of people—both faithful partisans and the merely curious.

He’d taken 13 questions and offered 13 responses and maybe he’d swayed a vote or two. Maybe he hadn’t. Whatever he’d accomplished, Day 21 of his first campaign as leader of the Liberal party of Canada was nearing its end. After this was a drive to the airport, after that a flight to Regina. By this time tomorrow he’d be in Edmonton, preparing to fly to Vancouver.

Before he left though he wanted to tell these people in this hotel ballroom about this song he’d been thinking about. “While I was on the bus this afternoon I found myself thinking about a wonderful singer called Bruce Springsteen,” he said. “Does everybody like Bruce Springsteen? I like Bruce Springsteen.”

It was not immediately clear where this was going.

“Bruce Springsteen is a great singer and somewhere in his work there is a wonderful song called The Rising,” he continued. “And in that song there’s a wonderful refrain—Rise up. And I began thinking about it today because we’re in a funny place in this election campaign right now.”

Mr. Ignatieff periodically breaks the fourth wall to become a sort of meta-politician. He confuses his previous life with his current one and becomes a journalist named Michael Ignatieff covering a politician named Michael Ignatieff. It is usually self-deprecating. But this was different. This was the politician acknowledging reality. Or taking stock of what seems to be his reality. Whatever was about to come, he seemed gripped with something.

“We’ve got a prime minister who shut down parliament twice and Canadians kind of shrugged,” he said. “We’ve got a prime minister who’s found in contempt of parliament. It’s never happened before in the history of our country and people say, kind of, ‘So what?’ We got a prime minister who tried to shut down the long-form census and people thought, that’s crazy, but kind of, ‘So what?’ And then we have a prime minister who just went out and smeared a member of his own caucus, tried to destroy her public reputation, and people say, kind of, ‘So what?'”

Two middle-aged ladies in the front row behind him shook their heads, appearing genuinely disgusted.

“And then we’ve got a prime minister who’s got a convicted criminal who was his chief of staff. Convicted five times of fraud and people say, kind of, ‘So what?'” he went on.

At first his sentences had been trailing off—the politician acting out the apathy—but now they seemed to be hardening.

“And then we’ve got a prime minister who’s got, right now, in his election campaign, four people accused of election fraud. And people say, ah, kind of, ‘So what?’ And then we’ve got a prime minister who allows only five questions to the press, the press are following him around, they only get five questions and if they ask six he walks away. And people say, kind of, ‘So what?’ And then we’ve got a situation where at Guelph university the other day, students lined up for two hours, some of them voting for the first time in their lives, to vote. And a Conservative operative tried to shut it down and stop it and some smart Conservative lawyer downtown tried to write a letter to get 700 votes by Canadian students disallowed in a federal election in Canada and people say, kind of, ‘So what, it’s just all political games, who cares?'”

It seemed for sure now that he had some kind of answer and indeed, with the full attention of six hundred eyes secured, here it came.

“And I kept hearing that refrain from Bruce Springsteen—Rise up. Rise up. Rise up, Canada!”

He nearly shouted this. The crowd began to clap, but Mr. Ignatieff kept on, talking louder over the swell, realizing his moment.

“Rise up! Rise up!” he cried. “Why do we have to put up with this? Rise up! Rise up! … Rise up! This goes beyond partisan politics! This goes beyond the Liberal party! This is about our country! This is about our democracy! Rise up! Rise up!

The crowd was now standing. Someone called out the refrain. Having built this up, he moved to justify his creation.

“We have got to fight here. We have got to stand and fight. This is not about me. This is not about the Liberal party. This is about the kind of democracy we hand to this child and this child and this child,” he declared, pointing to children in the audience. “We gotta rise up. We gotta stand and we gotta fight and we gotta win. This is not about the Liberal party of Canada. This is about the country you love. So rise up, Canada!”

It would seem to matter only marginally that he had confused his Springsteen songs*.

“Good night,” he said to the cheering, “thank you, merci.”

He and them were thus roused.

And now he has 16 days to make something of this.

*The refrain “rise up” is from My City of Ruins, which appears two tracks after The Rising on the 2002 album of the same name. The chorus of The Rising goes “Come on up for the rising,” while the chorus of My City of Ruins goes “Come on rise up.” In hindsight, they’re basically the same song, In fairness to Bruce, it was 2002 and we needed at least a couple songs like that.