I had every intention of following up my last post, a parting shot at the outgoing administration (I’m averse to even naming it now), with a forward-looking piece on the implications of the new Obama administration. But a warm glow settled over me and I dozed off.
My blissful state was slightly disturbed by Obama’s recent unsuccessful attempts to tango with Congressional Republicans over the Stimulus Bill. That will teach him to dance with the one who brung him. The Bill passed anyway, so who needs ‘em? Maybe next time Congress can get things done with less drama.
The Republicans have settled into what they do best—a rear guard action designed to damage the prospects of everyone who doesn’t agree with them, even if it means bringing down the country. They had plenty of practice during the Clinton years, and I’m sure they will keep it up throughout the Obama administration. Things are different this time; people won’t soon forget the example of the last eight years of Republican rule.
Though you might not know it if you get your news from only US news outlets, Obama is out of the country today for the first time since the election. He is in Canada’s capitol, Ottawa. The brief visit, six hours or so, is largely symbolic, and has been embraced enthusiastically by Canadians—and largely ignored by Americans.
I’ve mentioned before how popular Obama is in Canada, considerably more so than even in the US. A recent poll shows 82% of Canadians like him, compared to a respectable 64% in the US. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper enjoys just a 38% approval rate. In Canada’s multi-party political system, that is enough to put him in the Prime Minister’s seat.
Obama’s visit is a real balancing act for Harper. On one hand he is hoping some of Obama’s popularity will rub off on him. On the other, he doesn’t want to suffer in comparison to him. Harper refused to allow any questions at this morning’s photo op with Obama. It was strange, though perhaps not surprising, to see the press herded away without shouting a single question. (Canada’s favorite self-effacing joke is: How do you clear a swimming pool full of Canadians? You make an announcement, “Will everyone please get out of the pool?)
Considering the way Canadians in general feel about Americans, it is more than a little strange to here them gush over Obama. Normal Canadian caution and reticence has been entirely overcome by irrational exuberance. The other day a CBC talk show host reminded a guest who was going on about how great Obama was, “But he’s not our president.” The guest, a Canadian, insisted that Obama was everyone’s president. It feels weird, but in a nice way.
According to polls, all but a handful of Canadians feel that relations with the US will improve under Obama. In the US only a similar handful even know that Canada exists. A recent guest editorial in a national newspaper, written by an American, pointed out that maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Americans pay attention to foreign countries only if they are causing trouble. (“War is how Americans learn geography,” as someone said.) I advised one friend here who noted how seldom the US thinks about Canada, “Cut off the supply of oil and see what happens.” The US gets more oil from Canada than it does from Saudi Arabia.
I don’t think Stephen Harper will be making any idle threats during Obama’s visit. Though many Canadians seem to think Obama is ushering in an age of international enlightenment. Harper, at 38% popularity, is struggling just to maintain the status quo.
Now that Obama has been to Canada once, I’m sure many Canadians are eagerly awaiting his Second Coming. Hopefully by then Canada will have a Prime Minister who doesn’t mind taking a few questions.