Monthly Archives: January 2005

We didn’t elect the government to be our conscience

In case you were busy this week counting your wives or playing “Where’s Adrienne” (hint: don’t look in Alberta), I’d like to draw your attention to a story in last Sunday’s Citizen saying the federal government spent a cool $25.4 million on opinion polls last year. I think they’re up to something.

Cynics may respond, “Of course they are. They’re up to preparing for an election.” I wouldn’t put it past this (or any) incumbent government to spend public money polishing its own political fortunes. But I fear the cynics are taking, as so often, far too optimistic a view. I think misguided idealism is on the rampage again.

Please note first that last year’s spending, the second-highest ever after 2001’s $26.2 million, is no blip: It’s the fifth straight year the federal opinion-research tab has exceeded $20 million. And while government can blow hundreds of millions of dollars without breaking a sweat, it’s still a lot of polling (593 polls in the past fiscal year alone, or more than two every working day, although to be fair, like other members of the 1-800 crowd, they sometimes call on weekends, too). It’s far more, on far more issues, than can be explained by the seediest of electoral concerns. And besides, this may be a pre-election year, but 2001 wasn’t. Why on earth is the government gauging our moods so obsessively? Continue reading

The world should be thankful for the United States

Thank goodness for the United States. At his second inauguration yesterday, George W. Bush might seem to have gazed out at a world alienated by his unapologetic use of U.S. power. Certainly on his recent visit to Ottawa, jeering protesters tried to suggest he and the country he rode in on are uniformly despised here. But they aren’t and shouldn’t be. For without America we would truly be in the soup. Or die Suppe.

In Oregon last August, a registered Democrat passionate about local self-government suggested to me that if the U.S. had split up during the 19th century, its national government(s) might be far less unwieldy and impersonal than Washington has become. Perhaps. But my immediate and enduring reaction is that no possible benefits could compensate for the horrors of a 20th century without the overwhelming, if sometimes tardy, power of the United States, and I expect the same will be true of the 21st. She declared it a welcome change from habitual America-bashing by foreigners, including Canadians.

This fall, newspapers worldwide highlighted polls saying people from Spain to South Korea far preferred John Kerry to George Bush. It seemed a bit odd, since most also claimed not to see much difference between Democrats and Republicans. But it’s a proxy for resenting American exceptionalism, as is majorities everywhere liking Americans though majorities in Canada, Britain, Mexico and South Korea said American culture threatened their own (Canada’s 60 to 38 took paranoid gold here). In at least four countries, people massively told pollsters the U.S. exercises too much influence in the world – in Canada 86-11 – while a majority in Canada, Japan and South Korea denied America was respected in the world or helped maintain peace. Continue reading

Equality of rights doesn’t mean all of us are equal

One nice thing about being conservative is that you get to rely on established, unchanging truths. In liberalism, by contrast, notions dismissed as absurd in one generation have a disquieting tendency to become grim orthodoxy in another. Take equality … please.

Crusty old John Adams, America’s second president, proved politicians from Massachusetts were unpopular long before they became wild-eyed liberals; he served one term as the last Federalist president ever (then his son John Quincy Adams served one as the last National Republican, after which parties tended to shun the Adams family as a horror story). But as Russell Kirk notes in The Conservative Mind, first published in 1953, he remains very readable, if little read.

In a letter to his colleague John Taylor, Adams insisted “That all men are born to equal rights is clear. Every being has a right to his own, as moral, as sacred, as any other has.” But regarding the egalitarian fantasies of the French philosophes, he wrote “what are we to understand here by equality? Are the citizens to be all of the same age, sex, size, strength, stature, activity, courage, hardiness, industry, patience, ingenuity, wealth, knowledge, fame, wit, temperance, constancy, and wisdom?” Liberals at the time would have dismissed it as an absurd caricature of their views. But that was then. Continue reading

The tsunami teaches us a lot about our own mortality

My first reaction to the Asian tsunami was that it’s not the sort of thing to have opinions on. When a giant wave suddenly sweeps some 150,000 people to their deaths you’re horrified, you make a donation to the relief effort, and you contemplate your own mortality. But there aren’t really two sides to it, are there?

After a decent interval various observations suggest themselves. First, the relief effort now enters its critical phase. In most natural disasters the first couple of days are crucial as people search for survivors. In this case, a huge number of “survivors” escaped the first killing impact, but are now menaced by hunger, disease and smashed infrastructure.

Second, though the attention and sympathy of the world are rightly engaged by this calamity, it should not divert all our efforts from others in need of help elsewhere in the world, including a place called “Canada.” Charities have seen an increase in the targeting of donations in recent years. But let’s trust their judgment and give at least some money unconditionally. Continue reading