In its rhetoric, Barack Obama’s Tuesday State of the Union address sealed the four-year transformation of the United States into a society well to the left of Stephen Harper’s Canada.
Never mind the president’s closing peroration in favour of substantial new firearm regulation — misleading to cross-border comparisons at any rate, as the U.S. starts from such anarchy on firearms that they would have a long way to regulate before they caught up to the Canadian firearms regime, even after Parliament abolished the long-gun registry last year. Nor am I really thinking about his call for tax increases as a component of deficit reduction — simple arithmetic when the books are as out of whack as they are in Washington. There was also Obama’s passionate plea for serious policy to regulate carbon emissions in a bid to control global warming. His federally mandated increase to the minimum wage with an added cost-of-living index. And the bit that I found most striking because it was least expected and, if it were carried out, perhaps most ambitious: universal preschool for all four-year-olds, an extension of public schooling that would be hard to imagine in Canada, where Harper cancelled the federal-provincial daycare agreements he inherited from the Paul Martin Liberals.
The president spoke a lot about bipartisanship. (Frankly, I found his preoccupation with congressional procedure over the concerns of Americans a little jarring, especially because he’s not going to break gridlock by saying, “Come on guys, let’s break gridlock.”) But his stance was squarely to the left of this Congress’s centre. He spent his first year as president passing economic stimulus packages and health-care reform, but sought compromise for the balance of his first mandate. It didn’t get him much. He’s stopped trying.
Note that I said Obama’s speech accomplished the port-side outflanking of Canada only “in its rhetoric.” I’m still hardly persuaded Obama will get more done on climate change in his second term than his first, or that he’ll succeed in expanding preschool or limiting access to firearms. But the U.S. he wants to lead is, increasingly, an alien place next to the Canada Stephen Harper wants.