I don't know Ignatieff's work very well and cannot speak to how bright he might really be. Academic 'stars' like Ignatieff are, in my opinion, often way overrated and not nearly as bright as they are made out to be. (Except perhaps in some French cases such as Derrida, Sartre, or Roland Barthes) But obviously, regardless of what one thinks of his work, he is certainly a far cry brighter than Stephen Harper. What I suspect is that Ignatieff's intelligence simply does not translate well into the public forum or maybe he tries too hard. I have seen him answer important questions from reporters with the opening quip "Yeah, but. . . " Not the most effective way to come off as bright even by Canadian standards. I think that if Ignatieff were effective at melding his private intelligence with his public persona, he would be whipping the floor with Stephen Harper. Perhaps he has tried too hard to not seem like an intellectual and in the process has lost what advantage he might have had. I don't know for certain. I don't think that the problem is that one can't be an intellectual and still gain popularity with voters, because I think Duceppe is very bright and has at times been very popular. Unfortunately, Ignatieff's looks don't do him any favours because he lacks a sympathetic appearance. He also lacks a kind of public charisma. However, if charisma were a prerequisite to getting elected most of the Conservative cabinet would never have been elected to anything.
Perhaps the debates tonight will give us some answers to these questions. Maybe if Ignatieff does at some point become Prime Minister he will become much more effective and contribute to improving public discourse in this country. I just can't help thinking, somewhere in the back of my mind, that if Ignatieff were really bright he would have found a way to destroy Stephen Harper. Because in elections it is not necessarily your politics that really matter, it is what you do with your politics.
It is said that when asked who the best football coach was, Bum Phillips, the coach of the Houston Oilers said without hesitation Paul "Bear" Bryant. The reason, Phillips said was because "He can take his'n and beat your'n he can take your'n and beat his'n." I suspect that if Ignatieff were really as bright as people think we would be able to apply this coloquial assessment to him too.