Ignatieff, as seen in the U.K.
The Guardian has a lengthy feature today on Michael Ignatieff, obviously based on an interview Rachel Cooke carried out while the Liberal leader was in the U.K. in July. While he'll be heartened by this phrase in the introduction -- "the man most likely to become the country's next prime minister" -- overall, Cooke has presented a mixed portrait of a man more familiar to Brits as a TV host. And she warns he's not the man he used to be: "But Ignatieff used to be a writer. Listening to him now, it's as if he's been sedated, or body-snatched, or something. He's like a jazz man who's lost his sense of rhythm."
Some other interesting bits:
* On how politics resembles the writing life: "If you lived in literary London and had as many bad reviews as I did, you kind of toughen up anyway. And painful as it is to say, I've learned more from bad reviews than good reviews. Politics is like getting a really bad review: a stinker that you know all your friends are reading."
* On politics as an adventure for the literal-minded: "It's what you say, not what you mean, and you have to say only what you mean. Your question implies that I've suddenly had to tie myself in knots. No, I don't have to tie myself in knots, and I don't have to cease being who I am. But I have to watch what I say because the public has no other way to judge me than by what they read. I can't walk around saying: 'I keep saying these dreadful things, but I'm actually a nice fellow!' Why should they believe that?"
* On meeting Barack Obama: "Going to meet the president of the United States is a big deal. You do get, erm, a little apprehensive. But he is a master political animal. Grips you by the elbow, tells you that he's read your books, sits you down, makes you feel like you're the only guy in the world. Thirty-five minutes later, you think: that was a great guy. But you don't feel surreal. You feel you're sitting down with an extremely intelligent, good listener who's locked right in. A month into his presidency, and he conveyed the impression that he's always been president. That was genuinely astounding. He was at ease in some amazing way."
* And if this whole political thing doesn't work out? "I'm not going to die out there if people don't like me because there's someone at home who thinks I'm OK. I can't put it more directly than that. I have a sort of confidence, not necessarily in myself, but in the life I've led. I've done a lot of things. I'm not a kid any more. I feel I know some things about human beings, and what they're likely to do."