Monthly Archives: January 2010

State of the Union

[First published at]

Barack Obama gave a decent election speech on Wednesday night. Unfortunately he was meant to be delivering a State of the Union address.

No one expects such an address to be entirely apolitical, or crafted to please his philosophical adversaries. But Barack Obama finds himself in a peculiar political hole in which his own smoothness makes the sides unclimbable. And plainly he does not know it.

A year into his mandate the wave of enthusiasm generated by his campaign oratory has receded, leaving a thick residue of public suspicion that he’s all talk and no action. The last thing he needed was one more airy and self-satisfied display of rhetorical prowess when an endless string of precisely such performances have him plunging in the polls and unable to secure legislative triumphs. Continue reading

The danger of empty rhetoric

By now I’ve reached the point in my career where I have a sizeable collection of half-written articles on issues that once seemed important that a search party couldn’t find today. I don’t expect my dusty files to command your sympathy, but spare some alarm for our collective attention deficit disorder. When we quietly forget trendy policy concepts without analyzing their failures properly we don’t learn, we just flit about posing.

Consider the Japanese economic model. Remember when the land of the Rising Sun was going to show us all how crony corporatism beat free markets hollow? Or Germany, or Europe? Heck, I’m old enough to remember when the Soviet Union was a superior model for Third World development. These ideas sure look silly now. But emptying an old closet full of snake oil isn’t like quietly purging your bell-bottoms and big glasses. Continue reading

What Obama liberals didn’t get

We need a new punchline to “What do you call a Republican Senate candidate from Massachusetts?” The old one was “Nobody calls him” or “You can’t remember either?” I don’t want to hear what they’re calling him in the White House right now. But I’m calling him payback for a Nobel Peace Prize. And proof that I was right.

To my right-wing friends and colleagues, I told you Barack Obama was not as dangerous as you thought. Sure, he’s far to the left and plausible. But he’s also amazingly narrow, a stereotypical liberal always talking about other points of view who has never knowingly been in the presence of such a thing. And he lacks the political skills that made, say, FDR a menace to America economically and constitutionally.

To my left-wing friends (if any) and colleagues, I told you his agenda was neither well-thought out nor popular. Far too many commentators, like Obama himself, do not understand right-wing views intellectually or electorally. They assume everyone is, at heart, a Harvard professor, and they thought Americans had finally realized everything was George W. Bush’s fault, boo hiss, let’s have socialized medicine. In Canada, the short version was, “Finally, Americans have become Canadians,” which was exceptionally silly. Continue reading

Mournful leadership

Do our leading politicians strike you as a sorry lot? No, not that way. I mean do they seem to be in a constant state of mourning? If not, they are brazen hypocrites or wooden windbags.

I say this with confidence because the tidal wave of sludge that deluges me in my professional capacity as a journalist includes a steady stream of press releases from senior public figures saying they “mourn” or are “deeply saddened” or feel “profonde tristesse” due to various events. They not infrequently insist that they “stand with all Canadians as we mourn” or some such formulation that dares assign an approved emotion to the rest of us only to horn in on it without delay or embarrassment.

If I were thus to wave my superior sensitivity in your face you would insist that I remove my bleeding heart from my sleeve and tuck it back into my chest. And if I were genuinely in mourning I would resent a politician converting my feelings into a “sorrow op.” In any case, one look at them on a day they’ve stapled their superior feelings to their foreheads tells you they are not feeling the emotions they shout from the rooftops. No shadow of reflection on the transitory nature of life, the vanity of ambition (the what?!) or our common humanity in the face of our common fate interrupts the flow of political boilerplate. Continue reading

Our story begins long before 1867

Just how dull is Canada? Last month Citizen Editorial Pages Editor Leonard Stern said an HBO biography of America’s second president, John Adams, “reminded me just how unremarkable the story of Canada is. I love being Canadian, but boy do I envy the Americans their history.” I beg to differ.

American history is indeed glorious. It has towering heroes, great villains, magnificent achievements and what Barack Obama called the grotesque “original sin” of racial slavery. But ours is only dull if seen from the wrong vantage point: that it started in 1867 and was promptly put on hold pending Quebec’s Quiet Revolution after which we became a western bastion of anti-Americanism.

It would be remarkable if Canada really had no history before 1867, and none worth mentioning afterward until Pierre Trudeau arrived like a rock through a stained glass window bringing us sex, bell bottoms and then, through the Charter, human rights at last. But that is not how Canada’s founders saw things. Continue reading