Brian Lee Crowley
HANDS UP, all of you Sox fans who refused to watch the World Series because you despise America. All of you who sold your American cars to protest U.S. policy in Iraq, please stand up. And all of you who insisted that your pension plan sell off its U.S.nvestments because you feel America is unworthy of your support, please make yourselves known.
Still in your seat? I thought so. And that’s something to bear in mind when George Bush comes to town today.
It’s not that Canadians, who by and large opposed the president on Iraq, are hypocritical. On the contrary, they are very nuanced in their views of the United States, and are quite capable of distinguishing their dislike of one policy and one official (however important) from their attitudes towards America.
While Canadians don’t like to be reminded of it, we are more like Americans than anyone else on Earth. While we often engage in the “narcissism of small differences” (pretending that marginal differences between us are more important than the vast body of common experiences and values), to people from outside North America, Canadians and Americans are virtually indistinguishable.
Both things can be true, and in fact are true: we are different from Americans, but not in the way that Swazis are different from Swedes, or Chileans from Chinese. We share a common heritage whose continuity is more important than momentary differences over policy.
We don’t have to want to be Americans to like and admire Americans on the whole, or to use their products, watch their media, follow their celebrities, eat their food and play their music. We share a common commitment to democracy, the rule of law and liberal capitalism.
Even on the international scene, we often look to the Americans to use their power for good. We are with them in Afghanistan, as we were in the Balkans (without UN sanction, I might add), and we have been in many other conflicts, including Korea and both world wars.
We want them to throw their might behind ending genocide in places like Darfur and Rwanda, to combat AIDS in Africa and to lighten the burden of Third World debt. In fact, I think most of us understand that in a world where one country is going to wield preponderant power, there is no other country with whom that power is safer than the United States, warts and all.
That’s why I was not in the least surprised by a recent poll showing the vast majority of Canadians still regard the United States as our closest friend and ally. Dislike of something so transitory as an administration in Washington cannot overwhelm the ties of affection and common values that bind us together. And perhaps the president’s visit will give Canadians a chance to re-evaluate George W. Bush. In that re-evaluation, we might consider that he is just as complex as the country he leads. We might also consider that the Americans whom we so like and respect have now twice put this man in the Oval Office.
A more balanced view of this president would not deny that he has an unattractive swagger, is an uninspiring speaker, never met a deficit he didn’t like and is more ready to use America’s military might than the rest of the world might wish.
But it would set those flaws against some important strengths. He is one of the most successful American politicians of his generation, winning a decisive victory in the face of doubt about his foreign policy and anxiety about his economic management.
He has been resolute in the pursuit of an Iraq policy that he genuinely believes will make Americans safer than the alternatives open to him, and he has had that judgment confirmed by the voters.
A conservative president, he nonetheless has some impressive social achievements to his credit. He has greatly expanded medicare, and his centerpiece education bill, No Child Left Behind, has greatly increased the accountability of the public schools, including for those in poor and inner-city communities that despaired of ever seeing the quality of their children’s education improve.
Contrary to much anti-Bush rhetoric, he has expanded, not narrowed, his political base. In November, he closed the gender gap, won the Catholic vote, did better in the cities and upped significantly his support among blacks, Hispanics and other minorities. Bush improved his score in virtually every state Al Gore won four years ago.
George Bush is the democratic choice of our friends and neighbours, and he will dominate politics and policy in Washington for another four years, whether we like it or not. He is entitled, not to be liked, but to be listened to respectfully and honoured as the leader of our main trading partner and ally. We harm no one but ourselves by pretending otherwise.
Brian Lee Crowley is president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (www.aims.ca), a public policy think tank in Halifax.