Everyone wants to be Obama’s friend


Andrew Rawnsley’s must-read Sunday Observer column is funnier than usual this week:

One of the many joys of [Obama’s] victory has been watching David Cameron, the Tory son of a stockbroker who is married to the daughter of an aristocrat, claiming political kinship with an American liberal whose dad came from rural Kenya and whose mum had to make ends meet with food stamps. In the lovely joke of Olly Grender, the Tory leader will be claiming next that he is descended from a long line of old Etonian goatherds.

Canadian Conservative officials were making many of the same noises this week. Obama and Harper — both generationally under-50! Both pragmatists! I don’t want to poke too much fun at this instinct: it will always help, at the margin, if Canada’s prime minister and the U.S. president get along. But there is always competition, and because this new guy is popular, there will be more than usual.


Everyone wants to be Obama’s friend

  1. If you haven’t seen it yet, go see the cartoon that Deux Maudit Anglais have posted: “Dumont s’inspire d’Obama”.

    It’s somewhere here on Macleans.ca. Just don’t ask me how to get there with this stupid new interface.

  2. Though, is it not true that, aside from race, charisma and oratory skills, Stephen Harper has a lot in common with Obama? Certainly more than, say, Jack Layton or Stephane Dion? Forget the silliness about age, and having kids… Obama is – publicly, at least – against gay marriage, opposed to any really strict gun control, pro capital punishment, pro tax cutting… even to the extent that he wants to reform health care and expand other social policies, it’s only to a degree similar to that which Harper seems content with the current state of the Canadian welfare state.

    A lot of people on the progressive side in Canada would hate this analysis, but I’m not sure it makes it any less true: a Canadian conservative is basically a middle-of-the-road American Democrat.

  3. There’s a lot to that, Emmett. And yet, it’s a fairly iron-clad rule that Democrat presidents and Conservative prime ministers, or Liberal PMs and Republican presidents, eventually run into problems in their personal relationship. Every PM tries to avoid that pitfall with a new president, and Harper seems well-positioned. But if he gets along well with Obama he’ll have beaten a jinx.

  4. Agreed. Although it’s worth pointing out how overstated the first half of that ‘rule’ or ‘jinx’ is: given the relative infrequency with which we’ve had Conservative PMs when they’ve had Democratic Presidents, and even when that’s occurred, it’s been for extremely short periods of time.

  5. If Obama really does intensify the war in Afghanistan, as some think he will, it’ll be interesting to see if Harper tries again to increase rather than decrease Canadian military involvement as a way of currying favour.

  6. Obama the incrementalist?

  7. Blues Clair makes a good point, the flip side of it being, ‘Harper as even-keeled’? The two certainly don’t seem to share a similar temperment (although on both sides, the caricatures are probably overdrawn).

    Paul is correct in suggesting Harper seems well-positioned. Particularly, I think, if he can align himself with Obama on the environment. Afghanistan, however, poses an immense challenge…

  8. Oh, and BTW, I think there’s zero chance of there being any great bond between Obama and Harper. It’ll be cordial enough, I’m sure, but truly warm relationships like, say, Trudeau/Carter are rare.

    Obama is an extremely confident guy who’s not going to need Harper’s friendship. Harper, meanwhile, is a bit of a cold fish who even keeps people in his own party at a distance. If there are Tories are out there who hope a Harper/Obama bond is going to help ‘soften’ or humanize the perception of their leader, I think they’re in for a disappointment.

  9. Ya – no doubt there’ll be no Obama-Harper duet!

  10. Will they get along? I think that, when it comes to NAFTA at least, Harper is probably in the best position to show Obama the realities of that agreement — and why Obama shouldn’t get *too* tough on Mexico in his rhetoric.

    The thing about Afghanistan is, Obama won’t be dealing with Canada directly; he’ll have to deal with NATO as well. If the U.S. presence is upped as much as Obama wants, that may lead to *less* pressure for NATO nations to stay in, thus making it *easier* for Harper to justify major withdrawals in 2011.

  11. PhantomObserver says

    “that may lead to *less* pressure for NATO nations to stay in”

    Or NATO nations like Germany to drop there cavets.

  12. On the other hand, their public personas could not be further apart. Harper is probably the least flamboyant PM we’ve ever had — in public at least — from the sweater vests to the monotone. Obama — at least in public — is pure uplift. Since they aren’t competing for the same image, I bet they get along just fine.

  13. Harper and Obama have a lot in common in that they will most likely put aside a lot of their personal beliefs in order keep from rocking the boat too much as they govern. Left to their own devices, they’d likely be polar opposites, as leaders of their respective countries; their policies will probably find a lot of common ground.

    But I doubt he needs Harper to teach him about NAFTA, or anything else, really.

  14. Obama is “pure uplift”? While he was cruising to victory, sure. He does have an icy side to him, though, as evidenced by the, “You’re likeable enough, Hillary” line from the New Hampshire primaries. Let’s see how uplifting he is when the economy is tanking, his poll numbers are slipping, and his former “friends” in Congress are selling him out right and left, come about June or so.

    The honeymoon is in full swing now, of course, as evidenced by everyone fawning all over a collection of rather ordinary “behind the scenes” photos. Let’s see how he makes out when that first major crisis that Joe Biden promised everyone comes along.

  15. As long as he’s better than the last guy, people are going to cut him a great deal of slack. And it will hard to be as bad as the last guy.

  16. We’ve had a number of very close personal relationships between PMs and Preside3nts – particularly Mulroney/Bush 41 and Chretien/Clinton.

    Mulroney and Reagan got along very well, but it was Bush 41 who really became his “best friend”.

    I see no reaason why Harper and Obama cannot develop a warm relationship. I have no doubt it will certainly be better than any of the relationships Trudeau had with any of his US counterparts

  17. PET was all luvy-duvy with Fidel to care too much about friendship with the neighbour who mattered. Canada will not suffer that setback, at least.

  18. I’ll be the wet blanket — I just think a smart president-elect will keep his cards close to his vest, but still remember whose gov’t stuck its nose in the campaign some months ago. And by trying to throw an oily-covered anchor his way when he’s got hell-in-a-handbasket to worry about, I don’t know if that’s going to buy a lot of warm face time.
    Oh and let’s not forget who among the American covert powerbrokers Harper turns to for advice? I’m sure Obama appreciates the cunning, but that may be a source of another wall. There’s no lack of leaders who are eager for well-lit photo-ops with Obama right now.
    Being open and receptive is one thing, tho it stretches the sweater man’s acting skills to the limit, but Matthau and Lemmon-like buddies? What in the sam hill’s in it for the US prez?

  19. First off, I think we oversate our own importance when we keep referencing back to NAFTA-gate. If it was such a huge political gaffe, why didn’t McCain use it to beat up Obama during the campaign? Answer – because the whole thing was a tempest in a teapot, and was forgotten pretty quickly.

    Secondly, what is in it for Obama to have good relations with Canada? Plenty.

    Unlike W, Obama will be anxious to show the world that it pays to be a friend and ally of the United States. (W said that was his goal, of course, but his ham handed ways meant that it was political death for any government to be seen to be too close to him.)

    Let’s flip this around – if all of a sudden, early in his mandate, Obama starts having a series of public disputes with Canada, what does that do to his efforts to mend fences around the globe? Not much. In the grand scheme of things, it costs the United States relatively little to keep Canada happy and onside. Holding petty grudges and looking to settle old scores isn’t congruous with “getting things done”. If Obama finds an accomodating partner in Harper, it would make little sense to alienate him or pick a needless fight. That’s the approach that got the Bush Administration in such difficulty.

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