Given the public outpouring, it’s obvious great sadness accompanied Jack Layton’s death. It really sounds like we lost a person who, despite being a politician, was a human being. No small accomplishment. Most were surprised at the scale of public grieving, and the responses to his letter to the country in print have ranged from callous scepticism (Blatchford, National Post) to raving sentimental nonsense (Klein, Now). So what to make of this letter?
The left never tire of the mantra, “everything is political,” yet Layton boosters took umbrage with any notion that the death scored political points (read Blatchford’s 2355 comments, linked above). But why should it be surprising, or insulting, that Layton would use such a poignant moment to further the cause to which he devoted his entire life? Having the composure and stoicism to produce such a letter (even if, according to Blatchford, it was “crafted” with party president Brian Topp, chief of staff Anne McGrath, and Olivia Chow, who presumably weren’t just there for grammar) was the sensible thing for an astute politician like Layton, and just because it helped his party doesn’t mean he was insincere. Nobody denies the letter obviously benefited the party, so why waste the opportunity? It’s a commendable political and personal move. To assume this letter was written without consideration of its effect on the country is hopelessly naive. Does anyone really doubt Layton could imagine the effect it would (rightly) have on the country? That opinion seems to doubt Layton’s intelligence and political acumen, and fails to recognize the admirable truth that the man was devoted enough to give his final moment to the party.
Let’s look at what Now called one of “the most remarkable political speech ever” (Pericles’ Funeral Oration being a close second). Sandwiched between an inspiring, hopeful message for Canadians, and those suffering cancer, are directions for the party and pragmatic messages for caucus members, Quebecers, and the youth. It’s touching, as he knew it would be, but when a politician talks about politics it can’t be taken as only personal. Layton obviously wanted to inspire Canadians while helping his party. Success.
And is the letter’s content even remotely surprising? It would be shocking if he suddenly made a candid statement diverging from his lifelong positions. That would be historic, but the letter echoed the platitudes and sentiments he spoke in life. No surprises here. The letter didn’t add anything to his story, it was just a ghost authored overview.
Layton’s death is tragic, and it’s easy to see people loved him. Even those who detest his policies frequently have affinity for the man himself. Stories published in the Grid, CBC, and others from Now (there were 7 features on Layton last issue) describe an artistic, convivial man most at home in community meetings and drinking while talking politics in pubs. These stories paint a full picture of a fun, engaging person with character devoted to his cause he believed in (for better or worse). He showed tremendous courage facing a horrible disease. This letter should have little bearing on his legacy. He did enough in life. Let his enthusiasm and his spirit in the flesh be remembered, not his talking points.