When is a gaffe not a gaffe in politics? When it’s untrue, apparently. Enjoy the campaigns.
A classic gaffe, a career-threatening humiliation delightful to the press, is when someone expresses a home truth in plain language. Like that if a foreign nation attacked a country with which you had a defensive alliance you would defend them. You can have real trouble living something like that down.
It’s an especially juicy gaffe when someone blurts out what everyone knows.
A recent BBC poll indicates enormous enthusiasm for Barack Obama outside the United States. In 22 countries from Italy to Egypt he leads John McCain by about four to one on average, margins not seen since the last time a Democrat faced a Republican in an American election. It’s one more warning to Mr. Obama’s domestic supporters that he’s not quite the phenomenon they think he is.
This foreign enthusiasm is puzzling. Recent liberal Democratic presidents have performed fairly poorly on security and trade, and if Mr. Obama had consistent positions they might well be protectionist. Meanwhile to many of his American supporters his appeal is less programmatic than spiritual; he will heal America of divisions that allegedly run as deep as any the republic has ever known. Why this prospect would appeal in, say, Singapore or France is not obvious, especially to people who don’t like America very much. But in any case it is untenable because based on a false premise. Barack Obama may be a healer, and the inauguration of a black president would certainly be good for America. The problem is simply that the premise that America is divided as never before does not withstand informed scrutiny. Not on race, not on foreign affairs, not on economics, not on anything.
This just in from outer space. The government is censoring reporting of the election but doing it badly.
OK, it’s not from outer space. It’s from Elections Canada, who on Sept. 9 e-mailed the press to remind us that the law imposes strict requirements, if we report on polls during an election, about what information we must divulge.
State agents pry from us such things as “how many persons were contacted” and “the survey’s margin of error.”
This law is at once foolish and malignant, two qualities I personally try to avoid even in isolation let alone in combination.
The possible election of Barack Obama as president of the United States has engendered a puzzling level of enthusiasm among Canadian progressives. It is puzzling first because they are normally skeptical of American influence on Canada and second because it is not obvious, even if he possesses the wonderful qualities his more enthusiastic supporters attribute to him, how President Obama would bring about exciting changes in Canada. That we are in need of some rejuvenation of our political culture is beyond doubt. But Washington is not the place to look for it.
“Since September 11 Canada has, like the United States, experienced precisely no terrorist attacks, so Obama will have mathematical trouble bringing that number down any further.”
It might be carping to suggest that the direct impact of President Obama’s policies on Canada is liable to be negative insofar as it is discernable. Despite some bobbing and weaving, he does seem hostile to NAFTA, on which so much of our recent impressive economic growth is based. And if he should miscalculate in foreign policy, as his rhetorical tendency to oscillate between extremes of accommodation and belligerence suggests, we might well find ourselves in a far less attractive world. Those to the left of George W. Bush on foreign policy may think Obama would bring a more enlightened attitude to diplomacy leading to a more peaceful world. If so, the benefits are obvious, starting with our possibly being able to bring our brave soldiers home from Afghanistan. But at the risk of sounding hard-boiled, since September 11 Canada has, like the United States, experienced precisely no terrorist attacks, so regardless of his excellence, Mr. Obama will have mathematical trouble bringing that number down any further. And if he ends up flopping his flip on a hasty withdrawal from Iraq, then his Canadian supporters, even if they find it aesthetically superior to see a Democrat engage in foreign military nation-building ventures, will have little of substance to celebrate.
Personally I’d put Brie on my mooseburger and alienate all key sectors of the U.S. electorate at once. For good measure I’d discuss U.S. politics right after a Canadian election call and annoy my countrypersons as well. But at least I’d know it.
Contrast me with the hordes of commentators appalled that Sarah Palin can “field-dress” a moose without being sure what that procedure involves. Vegans can make principled objections. But when people who eat meat flinch at someone able to obtain it, you are up against snobbery rather than analysis. And if you can’t understand why I like Sarah Palin, I don’t much care why you think I shouldn’t.
Perhaps my disdain for Canadian politics is a form of reverse snobbery. But I’d far rather deal with the entrails of a moose than with the political kind in this country. I mean, the other day I got an e-mail from the NDP saying, “For too long, Stephen Harper has listened to those sitting around the boardroom tables, not the kitchen tables.” Phooey.
At the risk of stirring controversy I’d like to declare that Barack Obama would probably make an OK president.
To his supporters this will sound outrageously tepid. Whereas many conservatives are passionately convinced the rookie Senator from Illinois is absolutely the worst imaginable candidate for the Oval Office since, um, the last guy the Democrats nominated. In this respect, at least, hard-core Republican and Democratic sympathizers are quite similar: Compare what the latter now say about John McCain with the way they used to praise his independence from George W. Bush, and ask yourself whether they, too, don’t need either a reality check or an honesty transfusion.
The test I apply within my own social circles, such as they are, is to ask which Democratic nominee for president in the last 60 years they do not consider conspicuously unfit for that office. Not just potentially ineffective, lacking experience and/or liable to espouse bad polices, but offensively unsuited to it. I realize conservatives are likely not to support liberal candidates regardless of their personal qualities (and vice versa). But in a democracy, if your hair rises in panic at every nominee from the other party it is your judgment that is called into question, not theirs.