Down to business
In which the audacity of hope meets reality, and a bunch of know-it-all newspaper pundits. Phooey!
The Globe and Mail‘s John Ibbitson looks at the delicate politics of dealing with the ongoing financial crisis when only Barack Obama’s plans really matter, but George W. Bush is still president, and Obama wants nothing less than to be seen to be cozying up to Dubya. “It is the president-elect who has a clear agenda to solve an economic crisis”—i.e., a stimulus package likely costing $100 billion or thereabouts, coupled with bailouts for crappy American automakers—”and who must convince a lame-duck Congress to pass it, and a lame-duck President not to veto it,” Ibbitson observes. And thus far, he says Obama has looked very “presidential” in handling the crisis. But events will dictate whether he’s able to use the recession “to justify strong measures in energy conservation, infrastructure renewal, reform of financial regulations and improvements to health care and education,” or whether he gets swallowed by it whole.
Obama faces much the same economic situation Bill Clinton did when he became president-elect, Terence Corcoran argues in the National Post. “Harold Poling, then chairman of Ford, called on Washington to bail the auto industry out of its health care costs by setting up a national health care system;” some economists demanded a stimulus package, while others urged restraint; and “environmental activists called for strategic taxes on investment to encourage capital to flow into energy efficient and waste-reducing activities.” What happened instead during the Bush-Clinton interregnum was that simple messages and solutions became burdened with complexity, doubt and conflict amongst experts. It “drown[ed] out any Yes We Can belief that solutions are simple and at hand and all that’s needed is a decisive can-do attitude,” says Corcoran. And he sees much the same fate befalling Obama.
The Toronto Star‘s Rosie DiManno relates her astonishment at the “huge cheers …, squeals of delight” and high-fives that erupted among reporters in the media tent in Grant Park last Tuesday night when the networks declared Obama the victor. Sportswriters aren’t even allowed to cheer for a team, she notes, on pain of banishment from the press box—which is absolutely ridiculous, but we take her point. She’s no purist when it comes to reportorial objectivity. Most journalists :are left-of-centre and innately anti-establishment,” she notes, and Obama did run a much more interesting, “colour-rich” and gaffe-free campaign, which partially explains the preferential coverage he received. But come on, American journalists. At least keep up the charade!
Back in the Post, George Jonas suggests anyone who’s upset Obama won because he’s black, or thrilled that he won because he’s black, is suffering from “a medical condition.” The former condition is far more malignant than the latter, of course, but “they’re both racist. … Talk with your physician soonest,” he advises. As for those who are “upset for the right reasons”—i.e., Obama’s “statist” politcies—Jonas prescribes calm and courage. “Democracy isn’t for sissies. Democracy is uncorking bottles on a sea shore and watching awestruck as genie after genie emerges, always powerful, not always benign,” he writes. “You shouldn’t recommend, let alone impose, democracy on others, unless you’re prepared to abide by it at home. Abide, not grudgingly, but cheerfully. (And don’t impose it on others even then.)”
The Ottawa Citizen‘s Dan Gardner argues it’s no more logical to attribute this election result to a sea change in American politics than it was to assume the 2004 election was “a smashing victory [for Bush] that proved the United States was shifting rightward and would continue to do so for a generation.” The many people who mounted that argument were, of course, mistaken, and “for a very simple reason,” Gardner explains. “People tend to assume that electoral outcomes reflect popular opinion. Isn’t that the point of democracy?” But in fact, voters “can only choose from the options on the ballot”—options that are more the product of party politics than any consultation with the electorate.
In the Post, David Frum relates the story of how Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s new chief of staff) feted Clinton’s victory at a celebratory dinner by “rattling off a list of betrayers, shouting ‘Dead! … Dead! … Dead!’ and plunging [a steak] knife into the table after every name.” Some have compared this bizarre behaviour to The Godfather, but Frum argues that Bluto’s call to arms in Animal House (“Wormer is a dead man! Marmalard: dead! Neidermayer: dead!)” is a far more obvious precedent. And come to think of it, the revelation that Karl Rove spoke to Time‘s Matthew Cooper on “double super secret background” is clearly a reference to Dean Wormer’s double secret probation! Blimey, Frum’s cracked it! It’s like Washington’s Da Vinci Code! Send him to The Village!
The Star‘s Haroon Siddiqui summarizes all the latest unfortunate developments in the Muslim world and unceremoniously dumps them in Obama’s lap—where they will indeed reside as of Jan. 20. Obama needs an “overarching strategy,” Siddiqui advises, and “to see the big picture of U.S.-Muslim relations,” or else “he may end up as ineffective as his predecessors.” And we’re sure Mr. Siddiqui will let us know the moment he attains that unfortunate goal.
Rex Murphy, writing in the Globe, finds it ironic how quickly Hillary Clinton disappeared from the political scene, considering her battle with Obama was the real “main event” of the 2008 presidential campaign. “Hillary woke Mr. Obama out of his dangerous complacency and gave him a taste of humility,” Murphy argues; she revealed his weak spot—the patrician element in him, the high yuppie disdain”; she “taught him that some people in politics go for the jugular”; and “she taught him sheer persistence, to battle—in her husband’s favourite phrase—’till the last dog dies.’” He could have at least acknowledged her existence on stage in Grant Park, surely.
Psst. Mr. President. Up here!
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe suggests some drop-dead obvious priorities for Stephen Harper in forging a relationship with the new administration, and warns of some drop-dead obvious obstacles to forging that relationship and some drop-dead obvious consequences should he bugger it up.
L. Ian MacDonald does much the same in the Montreal Gazette, but adds that he feels Harper is on the right track so far with his congratulatory phone call to Obama—Harper realizes, no doubt, that “interpersonal relations between the president and the prime minister set a tonal example” for all discussions. (Just ask MacDonald about Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan. He’d love to talk about it!) But we eventually have to get tough, MacDonald warns, and as such he suggests the Prime Minister perform some self-affirmation exercises: “Canada is an energy superpower and perhaps it’s time we started behaving like one.”
The Star‘s Thomas Walkom files his latest (and easily his most facile) “Obama ain’t all that” column, suggesting that for all the symbolic importance of an African-American president, many unpleasant things about America haven’t changed: homosexuals can’t get married in many states, for example; and, uh, “at political rallies—and not just Republican ones—audience members would drown out the speakers by punching their fists in the air and chanting ‘U.S.A.; U.S.A.’” This apparently represents “jingoism.”
The Star‘s James Travers argues that for all the lives and money wasted thus far in Afghanistan, the ongoing stalemate between NATO coalition forces and the Taliban is necessary for a negotiated peace deal to occur. As such, he suggests “the arbitrary, unilateral Canadian decision, announced in the heat of a federal election, to bring the troops home threatens the long-term prospects for Afghanistan, and should be reconsidered. (We seem to remember the withdrawal being voted on in Parliament, but we must be mistaken.)
Speaking of Afghanistan…
The Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin expresses his relief at Mellissa Fung’s rescue, and hopes “the desire to tell the real up-close stories of Afghans caught up in the swirl of an unwinnable insurgency [has] left her system for good.” This seems like a bit of an odd thing to say about a friend he describes as a “rambunctious, hard-nosed newshound.”
Shit happens, is Rosie DiManno‘s general take on Fung’s abduction in the Star. She says the area in which Fung was kidnapped “is dangerous, but, in my opinion, not overly so, within the context of Afghanistan.” And the fact is if your fixer (or someone helping your fixer) sells you out, you might get kidnapped, or worse. It’s part of the job, as is coming to terms with various ethical dilemmas. For example, when hiring her fixer in Kandahar, DiManno assumed “at least half of the Star‘s money was going directly to the Taliban.” (While not exactly shocking, this seems like something that might have been very much worth musing over at an earlier date.)
In the Post, Lorne Gunter argues the spirit of Canada’s attack on Vimy Ridge—hyper-preparedness, meritocracy among commanding officers, strategic innovation and “believ[ing] in the intelligence of the common soldier”—lives on in modern Canadian soldiers and “is evident in them today in Afghanistan.” Unfortunately, this genuinely intriguing premise concludes Gunter’s column.
The Halifax Chronicle-Herald‘s Dan Leger calls our attention to the massive amounts of power suddenly resting in the hands of Peter MacKay—particularly if The New Stephen Harper actually allows his ministers to grow brains and use them independently of the PMO. MacKay is now defence minister ($18-billion budget), senior minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency ($370-million budget), and minister responsible for the Atlantic Gateway Initiative ($2.1-billion budget). He’s also, obviously, the main guy for Nova Scotia, charged with relating any and all bad news from Jim Flaherty, and he’s also in charge of keeping Newfoundlanders happy… or at least, you know, non-revolutionary.
Sun Media’s Greg Weston explains the latest project on which the federal government seems destined to waste a billion taxpayer dollars with nothing—literally, nothing—to show for it. All you really need to know is that it involves the internet and dates from 2001, and is therefore, automatically, not worth doing anymore.
In the Edmonton Journal, Lorne Gunter dismisses the federal equalization formula as “entirely political,” nonsensical and unsustainable as long as Ontario remains a have-note province. He also takes time out to gloat at Ontario’s current predicament on Alberta’s behalf.
The Globe‘s Jeffrey Simpson demands that the relevant authorities ensure the survival and continuing operation of Mount Assiniboine Lodge in the B.C. Rockies (which the B.C. government wants renovated at a cost of $2 million, but can’t find a bidder), St. Jude’s Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit (which was destroyed by fire, but reconstruction seems to be on track) and the Pays de la Sagouine theatre in Bouctouche, N.B. (ditto). If we had to guess, we’d estimate this column took Simpson 25 minutes to research and write.
Look, we’re sorry, it’s not the Globe‘s Lawrence Martin. It’s not even Justin Trudeau; indeed, he says nothing particularly offensive in his interview with Martin about his, and Canada’s, political future. It’s not them; it’s us. When we read about young Trudeau’s increasing “intellectual rigour and toughness to go with the megawatt charm of his bursting smile and flowing mane,” and how he might one day be our own version of Barack Obama, our stomachs insist on voiding their contents upwards. So you’ll have to read it yourself, if you so choose.
The Vancouver Sun‘s Daphne Bramham attends a “forum on parental abductions” featuring, among others, Melissa Engdahl, who was forced to secret her two daughters out of Lebanon with the aid of mercenaries. Canada should pressure non-signatory countries (including Lebanon) to ratify the Hague Convention on the Rights of the Child, Bramham argues, but domestic measures also need to be implemented: heightened sensitivity to “distraught” children at airports; “tighter exit controls that would require every adult to produce legal documents proving that they have legal custody of all children travelling with them”; and, which makes the most sense to us, punishing friends and relatives who assist in child abductions.
The power of the pretext
In the Globe, Lysiane Gagnon reminds Jean Charest of the David Peterson and Robert Bourassa precedents—that is, premiers who gambled on a snap election and got burned. “You need a really good pretext” to pull a patently unnecessary election off, she says, and Charest’s “Great Defender” of Quebec rights persona, while time-tested, has significant downside. After all, Charest’s various unreasonable demands during the federal election campaign proved a boon to the Bloc Québécois. “If Quebec’s voters … choose to believe the election is motivated by nothing more than crude opportunism, the Premier’s initiative might boomerang,” she warns. Strewth.
“Yesterday was a great day” for Pauline Marois, Don Macpherson writes in the Gazette. Okay, so trade unionists are “withhold[ing their] usual support” and hardline separatists are in open revolt, but at least “sovereignists didn’t come to blows with each other,” he notes, and at least “nobody high up in the party stabbed [her] in the back by leaking another damaging internal document to the press.” Still, Macpherson suggests, “it seems safe to say that never has a major party looked so unstable so early in a campaign as the PQ in the campaign for the Dec. 8 election.”
Scott Taylor reports in the Chronicle-Herald on his visit to Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway republic from Azerbaijan that’s “fully supported politically, economically and militarily by Armenia,” though even that country won’t go so far as to recognize its independence. Having escaped an extortion attempt by two traffic cops “waving what appeared to be a toy radar gun”—Taylor’s driver threatened to “report [them] to the prime minister when we interview him tomorrow,” and they “sheepishly trudged back to their tiny Lada empty-handed”—he arrives in the capital, Stepanakert, and finds political and military leaders reflecting the city’s motto: “No One Will Give Away the Land Bought With Our Soldiers’ Blood.” Resolving this conflict will require “very cautious and delicate negotiations,” he predicts.