Half empty, half full

obamafront500bigIllustration: Globe and Mail

WARNING: This post isn’t particularly Maudit Quebec-related, other than it is being typed is a quaint, swell and thoroughly non-Starbucks coffee shop in St-Henri, which is but a swim across the canal from Pointe St Charles, now the new home of Maclean’s Quebec bureau. There are English people everywhere. Also, cats. Coincidence? Probably.

Anyway, Saturday started as it usually does: with the Globe and La Presse, the sum of which is more often than not a brick-thick mass of differing coverage and conflicting opinions that requires at least three coffees and four Advil to digest. This weekend didn’t disappoint; fronting the Globe was a piece by the paper’s America columnist John Ibbitson who up until now has been decidedly bullish on Obama, but this weekend veered into doomsday territory. He kicked things off with a foreboding quotation from Walt Rostow, Lyndon Johnson’s National Security Advisor. “I see light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Rostow said in 1967. Rostow was talking about Vietnam, of course–we all know how that went–but Ibbitson’s implication was that it applied to the entire Obama administration. Not just the war in Afghanistan, which Ibbitson earlier (and rightfully) branded “Obama’s War”, but everything else as well: the economy, the environment, the auto sector, health care, foreign policy, domestic policy, infrastructure, politics, etc. All of it is in the toilet, Obama swears he’ll fix everything, and his administration is bound to collapse from the weight of its own promises. 

“Mr. Obama is the most activist president since Lyndon Johnson,” Ibbitson wrote. “Mr. Johnson’s presidency failed.”


Ibbitson makes a convincing case for the festering mess down south–especially with the accompanying graphic, above, which conjured up images of commies, central planning and wheelbarrows full of useless American rubles. It made the heart hurt, especially since the hangover of the eventual collapse would no doubt spread across the border into these climes. It wasn’t quite stock-up-on-bottled-water-and-buy-a-whole-pig-type piece, but close enough. At the very least, I was glad to have a vegetable garden and a root cellar.

Ah, then La Presse’s Richard Hétu arrived with a blessed, elixir-like 700 words of happiness and shiny-happiness. Hétu took on the same subjects on the same day and came out with a wholly different view. The title says it all: “The Honeymoon Could Be Long”. In it, the paper’s New York guy suggests that, despite the doomy gloomers of Ibbitson’s ilk–The Economist, say, or the Washington Post’s David Broder–the sheen has yet to come off the Obama administration. Just the opposite: unlike LBJ, who ramrodded his goals down congress’s throat and causing the inevitable gag reflex, Obama has presented his broad themes to congress and says he is open to discussion. In short, he’s doing exactly what he said he’d do, with all the requisite post-partisan verve he promised. He quoted a Washington Post poll in which Obama’s approval rating is actually above what it was several weeks ago

No one can say who is right. Pessimism and optimism are seemingly interchangeable these days, and how things are going depends on your point of view. This includes journalists, and it is an indication of the times that things can be apocalyptic and peachy keen on the same morning.

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