Must-reads: Rex Murphy on the Martin memoirs; Haroon Siddiqui on Barack Obama; Gary Mason on Robert Dziekanski; Jeffrey Simpson on the Tories in Quebec; Chantal Hébert on Iggy’s chances; Robert Fulford on gambling; Randall Denley on frugality.
The fat lady, or the choir of angels?
Canadian pundits have apparently never heard of the jinx.
The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson attempts to explain the historical significance of Barack Obama, who isn’t just black, but potentially the first “northern liberal” president since John F. Kennedy. “His victory would acknowledge an ongoing reformation of the republic: the halting, inconstant but unmistakable breaking down of barriers; the political debut of a new generation; the transformation of whole regions of the nation,” Ibbitson argues. It would embarrass “those skeptics who believe [the United States] is a failing giant.” Heck, he’s already “re-enfranchised African Americans” and “convinced Latinos to submerge racial suspicions toward African Americans and join them in common cause,” and he hasn’t even won!
The Toronto Star’s Haroon Siddiqui recaps all the indignities Obama has faced from various Republicans determined to make his race and his purported Islamic faith defining issues among the rednecks. And he suggests it was Colin Powell’s powerful endorsement, during which he asked why a young Muslim shouldn’t (hypothetically) aspire to be President, that really highlighted the meaning of the campaign. “By just being who he is,” Siddiqui concludes, he “has put fellow Americans on an irreversible journey to national reconciliation.”
In the National Post, George Jonas stands up for the Obamas’ right to associate with “flaming lefties” like Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi, for the voters’ right to refuse to vote for Obama on the basis of those associations, and for the Obamas to throw their associations under the bus when it suits their political purposes. Ultimately, he concludes, this all comes down to “a short-tempered, older man, not in the best of health, who has a few ideas, some good, some bad,” with “a running mate … with not enough books and too many pregnancies in her family,” versus “a kind of black Jimmy Carter” with a “nice-looking family.” Take your pick, America.
Also in the Post, David Frum argues that McCain had a perfect electoral role model in Nicolas Sarkozy, who overcame the extreme unpopularity of his party-mate Jacques Chirac and defeated “a charismatic and appealing challenger”—i.e., Ségolène Royal—who wasn’t “the usual white male.” The key difference? Sarkozy “presented a clear and simple analysis of what was wrong with France—and plausible solutions to the problems he diagnosed.” And McCain didn’t. (A pity, really. “Do as the French do” would have been so much better a slogan than “America first.”)
L. Ian MacDonald, writing in the Montreal Gazette, is somewhat kinder to McCain, suggesting “whichever candidate for the presidency captured, articulated and personified the mood for change” in America was always going to have a “huge advantage”—and that that candidate was never going to be McCain, and certainly not after he tied Sarah Palin around his ankle. That said, MacDonald believes that by “panicking in the face of” the financial crisis, McCain “squandered his inherent advantage as the scarred war hero.”
The Star’s Rosie DiManno heads to Chicago to get her hair cut by Obama’s barber and go on a sort of Obama Reality Tour of the city, including a stop at the now-shuttered Baskin Robbins location where he once worked, and where he first kissed Michelle. As fellow Baskin Robbins alumni, we are now even bigger fans of Mr. Obama.
The Star’s Thomas Walkom continues to poll Missourians on their presidential preferences. He finds that some are going to vote for McCain, and some for Obama. Fascinating. Walkom’s in his trademarked contrarian mode in another piece, arguing the differences between Obama and McCain really aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and that Obama’s hawkish stance on the war on terror, in particular, might have counterintuitive implications for Canada. He suggests, for example, that Canadians “might well listen to Obama” if he asked us, using his trademarked oratory, to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2011, because he’s treated here “as a messianic figure.” Holy cow, we are so sick of this argument. Barf. There, see? Anti-war Canadians would be off the Obamawagon so quickly—if they were ever on it—that it would make your head spin.
The Star’s James Travers believes it “small, even mean-spirited,” to mention that an Obama victory “is not, at least theoretically, in this country’s immediate economic interest.” The whole protectionism thing, he means. Luckily, he says, our trade relationship with the U.S. is built less along an import-export model than a “making things together model,” which will be much more difficult for a protectionist in Washington to dismantle. Or, in absolutely classic Traversian, “unscrambling that egg would now be vexed, if not impossible.”
Even in the best case scenario, Sun Media’s Greg Weston assures us that Obama’s lofty rhetoric won’t expedite traffic across the Peace Bridge or solve any of the other practical hindrances to blissful relations between our two fine nations. And whatever kind of president he turns out to be, a “senior Canadian official” tells Weston he’s positive “we will have to expend a tonne of goodwill putting out fires in the next Congress.”
The Star’s David Olive says even the moved-up inauguration date of Jan. 20 is “2 ½ months too long [to wait] for an America facing its worst economic downturn since the Depression.” They need a new president and new ideas post bloody haste. Luckily, he informs us, in yet another cringe-inducing accounting of unhatched chickens, Obama is widely believed to have his secretaries of the treasury, defence, state and justice picked out.
In the Globe, Rex Murphy expresses disappointment at not hearing from Cameron Diaz during this election campaign, given her articulate support for John Kerry in 2004. (She apparently warned that rape might be legalized under a second Bush administration, and that women “could lose the right to their bodies.”) But he’s happy to see author Erica Jong take up her mantle by telling an Italian newspaper that a McCain victory would “spark the second American Civil War.”
“Jane Fonda cannot be consoled. She cries all night and can’t cure her aching back, for fear Mr. Obama will lose,” John Ibbitson writes in the Globe. But unless Gallup screwed up as big, or bigger, as they did with “Dewey beats Truman,” unless “undecided and soft-Democratic voters in the Philadelphia suburbs and exurbs” swing at the last minute to McCain, and unless a similar catastrophe occurs in Ohio, Ibbitson still has this election comfortably in the bag for Obama. Like, 90 per cent, give or take. Has to happen. Right? After all, the Toronto Sun’s Peter Worthington makes the dizzyingly weird contention that polls and pundits are rarely wrong on such matters.
Our own, earthbound politics
“The Liberal leadership battle looks like a fight he cannot win,” Chantal Hébert writes in the Star, “he” being Bob Rae. Michael Ignatieff has recanted on Iraq; he has been vindicated on Quebec nationalism (even as he becomes “more street-wise about he minefield of Canadian unity politics); and is gaining high-profile supporters even as some of Rae’s, including Martin Cauchon, consider their own runs. What’s more, Hébert continues, Ignatieff is “probably the most compelling parliamentarian to have entered the place since Lucien Bouchard left it.” And as the race seems ready to fracture along “generational lines,” she sees less of a prospect for a coherent anyone-but-Iggy movement reforming.
The Globe’s Lawrence Martin believes with Frank McKenna out of the picture, John Manley has plenty of room to establish himself as “a candidate of experience, erudition and sound judgment—one who spans the centre of the spectrum at a time when many see the Liberals as having swung too far to the left.” But if he decides to run and wants to win, Martin advises he must move quickly to build “a strong core team” that’s willing to “knock down walls for him,” and that he must have more “fire in the belly” than during his “rather lame attempt at challenging Paul Martin for the crown.”
Rex Murphy reviews Paul Martin’s memoirs in the Globe, and finds it distinctly lacking in the juicy details of the Martin-Chrétien wars. But he says the book’s “deepest reticence” is on the most fundamental question: “How did it all fall apart so quickly? How did the man who was so artful on the reach for the top prove so clumsy in staying there?” Neither Adscam nor Giulano Zaccardelli’s machinations explain how an accomplished finance minister “with a humanist vision, and the embodiment of a kind of natural ease and decency that was almost prototypically Canadian … transmuted so quickly into the cruel moniker bestowed by the Economist magazine: Mr. Dithers.” (We suspect he doesn’t know himself, but if he does, we agree he owes us an explanation.)
The Globe’s Jeffrey Simpson suggests Stephen Harper will run a better campaign in Quebec next time around, free of the youth justice and arts funding gaffes that revealed how thin Tory support in the province was. But, he warns, “if the strategy isn’t working, better tactics won’t save it.” And in Simpson’s view, the Harper/Charest vision of federalism—“of a one-way transfer [of money and authority] and of more ‘autonomy’ (Mr. Harper’s word) and defending Quebec’s ‘interests’ (Mr. Charest’s word)”—pitches the ball right into the Bloc Québécois’ wheelhouse.
The Gazette’s Don Macpherson explores the possibility Jean Charest metamorphosed from a cost-cutting, government-shrinking conservative into “a conventional administrator” with “a conciliatory and relaxed attitude” as a survival tactic, and not because “the managerial school of former Liberal premier Robert Bourassa” rubbed off on him. The possibility, in other words, that he’s a fake. Would he revert to Charest 1.0 having won a majority? Macpherson is unsure. But he thinks the Parti Québécois could make hay on such a prospect during the campaign, much as the Bloc did against Stephen Harper.
Barrels—not just for whiskey anymore
“In the Great Depression, more than half the production of the United States vanished,” Dan Gardner writes in the Ottawa Citizen. “Thousands of banks collapsed. Prices for farm products plummeted. One in four workers was unemployed and two million Americans were homeless.” In that none of these things has so far happened in 2008, nor do they seem likely to, he dismisses comparisons between our current situation and those of people who survived the depression—indeed, he suggests “we belittle [their] suffering” by making that comparison. We agree, but object to his lumping in Maclean’s among the hyperbolists just because we said “times are tough.” Aren’t they, relatively speaking? It’s as if he’s saying you can’t yell “ouch!” unless you have a harpoon sticking out of your chest.
Also in the Citizen, and also on the subject of our economy, Randall Denley explains just how sick he is of hearing advice on frugality that “all but millionaire financial gurus and idiots already employ”—drink office coffee, brown bag your lunch, etc. “This would be life-changing stuff for the analysts and consultants who issue the advice,” he suspects, but “it’s hardly a revelation for ordinary people”… as long as all you ordinary people, like Denley, make your own lunches, rarely eat out and “never buy anything unless it is on sale.” Besides which, he notes, if everyone takes this advice, our economy really is screwed.
The Globe’s Christie Blatchford reports on the remarkably “resilient, optimistic” deathbed statements from two alleged victims of Johnson Aziga, who’s accused of murdering them by knowingly infecting them with HIV.
The Globe’s Gary Mason believes the length of time it’s taken to investigate Robert Dziekanski’s death at the hands of four RCMP officers, and the glacial pace of Canadian justice in general, are reducing “aspects of our criminal justice system [to] farce.” And he’s equally sure that nothing will be done about it—that we’ll have forgotten about the delays in a year. No one will say, “Hold on here, why did you need to send a team of investigators to Poland … when you’re trying to determine whether your officers were in the right?” We’ll just “shrug and look perplexed. It’s pathetic.”
Scott Taylor files his first missive from Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, which he describes as “one of the most difficult places I have ever attempted to get into,” in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.
In the Post, Robert Fulford notes a new study showing little difference in the addictive pathologies of lottery players and hardcore casino gamblers, and suggests Canadian governments’ financial reliance on gambling “amounts to an elaborate conspiracy of the clever against the dim.” Gambling is even more intractable an addiction than drugs or alcohol, Fulford notes, in that “only problem gamblers imagine that their habit will, sometime soon, provide its own solution”—i.e., money to pay off enormous debts accrued through gambling.
Lorne Gunter, also writing in the Post, finds hope in the C.D. Howe Institute’s recent report on aboriginal education, namely, that employment rates at different levels of educational attainment are very similar between aboriginals and non-aboriginals. This indicates to him that “where they possess the required training and skills, aboriginal Canadians do not face barriers to finding work.” The sheer numbers who don’t possess the training and skills are the problem, clearly, and it seems those numbers may be on the rise. “Turning over on-reserve schooling to boards independent of band politics” and other proposed measures are likely good ideas, says Gunter, but given this educational “regression” is occurring concurrently with “increases in what was already hearty federal funding,” he suggests cutting funding is probably a good idea. He offers no evidence to back this up except the idea that “it is possible to do more than survive” simply on what the government doles out. Weak.
The Vancouver Sun’s Daphne Bramham investigates whether Surrey’s female mayor, Dianne Watts, and its six-to-three female majority on the city council, provides evidence of all the positive things women bring to politics—more collegiality and consensus-building, better thought-out policies, etc. Despite the fact the council pointedly left Watts off “all the important committees” after winning a bitterly contested election in which she feuded not just with her opponent but with her own party—and despite wanting the RCMP to continue to provide police services in Surrey, rather than establishing a new force, which is a yellow card all on its own—Bramham concludes that yes, it does.