By all rights, he should always have been a Liberal. His father, Saul, was an important foreign service mandarin under Lester Pearson; his sister, Jennifer, dated the young Pierre Trudeau; his brother John was a key backroom figure behind Jean Chrétien.
But as a student at the University of Toronto in the late 1960s, young Bob Rae began to tentatively break away from the family project.
In part, this reflected the times. The Vietnam War was on and students were questioning not only the U.S. role but the quiet support given to it by Canada's Liberal government.
For Rae, given his father's past role as a Canadian diplomat involved in the Vietnam file, this critique had an intensely personal dimension.
Trudeaumania provided a brief respite. In 1968, Rae and his roommate Michael Ignatieff — now a rival for the Liberal leadership crown — attended the convention that elected Trudeau. Tellingly, perhaps, Ignatieff went as an elected Liberal delegate. Rae, fascinated but less certain, was just another excited Trudeau youth worker.
Within a few months, the excitement had worn off. Writing in the Varsity, the campus newspaper, Rae bewailed his brief infatuation with Trudeau Liberalism. Young people, he said, had been attracted by the prime minister's intellect. But in the end, this was not enough; a leader must have principles as well
"The infatuation with intelligence should come to an abrupt halt." Rae wrote, noting that while Trudeau might look different on the surface, in reality he was just another Liberal "jazzed up and wearing sandals."
By the end of his time in office, Rae had become a convert to fiscal rectitude, public-sector restraint, workfare, hospital nursing cutbacks and tough-minded education reform — all of which were picked up and expanded upon by his successor, Conservative Mike Harris.
Musing on his experience later, Rae wrote that social democrats — if they are to succeed — must embrace free market economics, avoid absolute principles of right and wrong, and make practical choices.
He might have said they need to become Liberals.
Walkom's column is a form of absolution for Rae and reassurance for Liberals that they will not be backing an NDP Trojan horse.
It is revealing, however, of just how far to the left the Liberal Party is moving, when a former NDP premier and party stalwart forced only by the reality of governing to abandon his socialist ambitions is considered to be part of the party's centre.
And it is further revealing that he will just another one of the glut of Toronto-area leadership candidates. With Stephane Dion as the token Quebecois (who'd a thunk it?) and Scott Brison as the token East Coast candidate (and of course, no need for even a token Westerner), the Liberal Party has passed from being mildly apologetic and defensive of its Toronto-centric nature to outright pride therein.
Time heals all wounds. Bob Rae's government is now retreating into the mists of history, with the Harris/Eves years having intervened, and McGuinty approaching his second term. People in Ontario have forgotten, if not forgiven, Bob Rae for his spectacular incompetence as Premier. And people outside Ontario don't really care.
Most of all, he has the blessing of Power Corporation. No one else in the race can claim that.
Let us not underestimate Bob Rae. He is a far more formidable candidate under his new packaging than you think.