Entries from November 2005

Bush’s Doomed Immigration Gamble

David Frum November 30th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

You have to give George W. Bush this: Even when he is wrong, he is brave.

Look at him on Monday: He has sunk below 40% in the polls, the lowest level in his presidency, depressed by the war in Iraq and high gasoline prices. So what does he do? He travels to Arizona, a state struggling especially hard with the costs of illegal immigration, and there rededicates himself to the most unpopular items in his whole domestic agenda: amnesty for illegal aliens and a guestworker program to bring even more aliens into the country.

ThatÕs quite the way the president framed the issue of course. He appeared in front of a big green sign that read, “Protecting AmericaÕs Borders.” He promised a series of tough actions to enhance enforcement of the immigration laws, including an endorsement of fences and electronic surveillance on the Mexican border and a big increase in the budget for the immigration service.

But these tough promises function merely as cover for the presidentÕs true liberalizing policy.

The problem for the president is that his party knows the truth – and resents it.

American immigration policy is already among the most open in the world. The United States accepts more than 1 million legal immigrants a year. Another 1 million are thought to arrive illegally. Many of those illegals stay for relatively short times, but enough remain to push the illegal total to an estimated 10 million. Altogether, almost 30 million Americans are now foreign-born.

In Europe, AmericaÕs immigration policies are widely seen as hugely successful. That is not how things are perceived here. As AmericaÕs immigration policies have become more permissive, AmericaÕs immigrants have fared less well.

In 1970, about one-quarter of immigrants who had spent at least 10 years in the United States lived at or near poverty as compared to 35% of the native-born.

In 2000, poverty and near-poverty among the native-born had been reduced to 28% – while 41% of immigrants who had lived in the United States for 10 years or more were poor or near poor.

Because immigrants are so much more likely to be poor, they exert greater downward pressure on the wages of less-skilled Americans.
That is of course one reason that big American employers tend to favor easy immigration – and why the presidentÕs working class supporters so strongly oppose it.

For over the past 25 years, the Republican party has evolved into the party of AmericaÕs white working class. In the 2004 election, Kerry carried 14 of AmericaÕs 25 richest zip code – but Bush beat Kerry among white women without a college degree. White working class men strongly backed Bush in both 2000 and 2004.

Easy immigration is bad public policy because it worsens so many of AmericaÕs most difficult social problems from poverty to crime to healthcare (a majority of AmericaÕs uninsured are foreign-born) – to national security.

Easy immigration is also bad politics, because it frightens and offends so many of the Republican partyÕs core supporters. Since 9/11, polls have consistently found that majorities of Americans think immigration policy too lax – and regard illegal immigration as a very serious problem. Three-quarters of all Americans oppose amnesty for illegals.

Bush knows all this. He goes ahead anyway – because he thinks it right, and because he is willing to gamble the RepublicansÕ current support in hope of gaining votes among the Hispanic newcomers. So far the gamble has failed, and the presidentÕs immigration policies have done nothing but lower his standard. It is wrong. But it is brave.

Here’s How Harper Can Fight Back

David Frum November 29th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

We know how the Liberals will campaign against Stephen Harper. They will fill the airwaves with ads in which a concerned female voice talks of a “scary secret agenda” while the screen flashes grim, black-and-white photographs of the Conservative leader.

The real question is: How will Harper fight back?

Maybe this time, he should try some negative ads of his own. How about one showing the face of Joe Morselli and some highlights from his career — over a recording of the voice of former Liberal director-general Daniel Dezainde testifying that Morselli was the “real boss” of the Liberal party in Quebec? Maybe the ad could then fade into a clip of Dezainde testifying that he believed that Morselli had threatened his life.

Or perhaps Stephen Harper could carry with him a manila envelope stuffed as if it contained $120,000 in hundred-dollar bills: the amount of cash Marc-Yvan Cote says he received from former Liberal party official Michel Beliveau.

Perhaps we could see some shots of the lavish behind-the-scenes goings-on at the Montreal Grand Prix, with Liberal politicians and cronies entertaining themselves at taxpayers’ expense? Perhaps an ad could recreate one of those legendary “cigar club” evenings at which sponsorship deals were done over Havanas donated by Fidel Castro’s ambassador.

Justice John Gomery has concluded that these misdeeds took place over seven years without Paul Martin ever catching on.

That too offers a rich target for Conservative ads. The theme could be: What else has Paul Martin missed? Maybe that’s why taxes are so high — and the hospital waiting lists so long — because Mr. Martin just didn’t notice. Perhaps the ads could feature an alarm clock and a cheerful message to Canadians that it is time to wake the Liberals up.

Another approach: The average Canadian paid a little over $6,300 in federal taxes in 2005. The total cost of the sponsorship program over the period 1994-2003 was $332-million. In other words, this one program devoured the total annual taxes of 53,000 Canadians — or almost as many as attended this year’s Grey Cup game. Maybe the Conservatives could show a skycam shot of the crowds who watched the Eskimos beat the Alouettes, with a voice-over saying something like: “This year, like every year, Canadians from across the country came together to join a national tradition: the Grey Cup. These Quebecers, Albertans, British Columbians had something else in common, too. It would take every dollar of federal tax paid by almost every one of the fans in this bowl to fund the Liberal government’s sponsorship program. At the end of the game, the fans will have great memories. After $332-million of sponsorship waste, fraud and theft — what did Canadians get?”

Many people are urging Stephen Harper and the Conservatives to deliver a positive message in their advertisements. And of course there is much wisdom in that advice. The only way to defeat one government is by choosing an alternative — and Canadians will want to know what a Conservative government would do in office.

But in the end, it is important for Conservatives to remember that this election is not really about them. Canadians will vote Conservative as the best and surest way to punish a Liberal party that has abused the public trust. The job facing the Conservative party over the coming weeks is to drive home to all Canadians how gross, how unscrupulous and how extreme the abuse has been — and how very nearly the Liberals got away with it. What do you think would have happened to the Gomery inquiry if Paul Martin had won a half dozen more seats last year?

And maybe that too is a theme for a Conservative campaign message: What If? What if Paul Martin had won a half a dozen more seats last time? What would have happened to the Gomery inquiry then? And what if he wins this time? Will the Liberals ever really repay the taxpayers’ funds that found their way to them? Will the Earnscliffe contracts ever be investigated? Will the democratic agenda so humorously assigned to Belinda Stronach ever produce anything more than blah, blah, blah?

The questions answer themselves, don’t they?

It’s in the Liberal interest to finish and silence the sponsorship story as rapidly as possible. It’s in their interest to move on, consigning yesterday’s unsolved mysteries to the dust of forgetfulness — while they proceed to the much more exciting work of generating the scandals of tomorrow.

Real change in Ottawa won’t happen by itself. It’s up to you. Hey — maybe there’s a campaign slogan.

The Party Of Cut And Run?

David Frum November 22nd, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

At last, a little reality. On Thursday, Democratic congressman John P. Murtha delivered a dramatic, tearful denunciation of the Iraq war. The speech carried special force because Murtha is one of the more hawkish members of the Democratic caucus: a Vietnam vet, a former Marine, a past chairman of the House Armed Services committee.*

Murtha announced that he would soon introduce a resolution calling for immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The proposed resolution was lengthy, wordy and argumentative. It contained eight “whereas” clauses before ending with a euphemistic demand for “redeployment” of troops out of Iraq.

The Republicans maneuvered quickly and introduced a stripped-down version of Murtha’s resolution. No “whereas” clauses, no long preliminary arguments, no euphemisms, just a clear, plain text: “Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.”

Democrats exploded in outrage.

The Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, called the resolution a “disgrace.” The number two Democrat, Steny Hoyer, called it a “shabby, petty political maneuver.” Veteran Democratic lawmaker David Obey sputtered “How dare you? How dare you?”

Why were they so angry? It has been the Democrats’ strategy ever since last year’s election to shun any discussion of the future course of the Iraq war. They will angrily criticize the management of the war. They never tire of arguing and rearguing the original decision to go to war. But when asked what should be done now, they respond–in the words of Democratic national committee chairman Howard Dean: “Right now it’s not our job to give out specifics.”

Ah. And when will it be their job? “When the time is right,” says Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic congressional campaign committee.

So you can see why Democrats would mightily resent being pinned down before Dean’s and Emanuel’s magic hour arrives. Faced with a clear choice, they retreated from their own wild words. The House voted 403 to three against immediate withdrawal, with John Murtha himself joining the majority against withdrawal.

But here’s what I don’t get.

Democrats know they have a problem on national security. They know that Americans do not trust them on defense issues. They remember losing the presidency in 1968, 1972, 1980, 1984 and 1988 very largely because Americans perceived them too dovish. After 9/11, Democrats vowed not to repeat their past mistakes–which is one reason that so many of them voted for war with Iraq in October, 2002. (Of the 50 Democratic senators in office at the time, 29 voted for war, including both John Kerry and John Edwards. Eighty-one Democrats voted for war in the House, including then-House leader Richard Gephardt.)

The puzzle for me, then, is this: Knowing all that, why can’t any leading Democrat resist the temptation to wobble?

Why, in the hours after Rep. Murtha’s speech on Thursday, didn’t some ambitious Democrat–Evan Bayh, say, or Hillary Clinton–publicly repudiate the idea of withdrawal? Go to the floor of the House or Senate, attack the mismanagement of the Bush administration, blah, blah, blah, but then add: “We Democrats are not the party of cut and run. We are not the party of the white flag. We are the party of Harry Truman and John Kennedy, not George McGovern and Michael Moore. George Bush is losing the war in Iraq. We Democrats are determined to win.”

Why can’t a Democrat say that? What is in the water that they drink that even a tough nut like John Murtha reacts to a frustrating military situation by saying he’s had enough and it’s time to quit?

The public opinion numbers on Iraq are bad right now. The latest CNN-Gallup poll reports that 63% of Americans disapprove of George Bush’s handling of it. The same poll finds that 54% now regard the war as a “mistake.” Those are tempting numbers to an opportunistic politician. But they are also dangerous numbers. Calling for a bug-out may raise Democratic numbers in the overnight polls. But it will not serve them in the 2006 and 2008 elections, any more than it did in 1972 or 1968. The American voter may allow himself to grumble and falter–but that same voter will not forgive grumbling and faltering in a would-be leader.

Right now, the talk of Washington is how cleverly Hillary Clinton has positioned herself slightly to the right of left-of-centre by eschewing the anti-war talk of a Howard Dean. The other major candidates are attempting their own variants of this maneuver. But a maneuver that looks like a maneuver is no maneuver at all. If Democrats want to be seen as tough on defense, they must actually be tough on defense. Toughness is tested and proven in times of adversity. And once again the Democrats are flunking.

*CORRECTION: John Murtha is a former chairman of the House Appropriation Committee’s subcomittee on defense.

George W. Bush, Comeback Kid?

David Frum November 21st, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

This is a moment of opportunity for President Bush. With conservatives rallying to the presidentÕs superb choice of Samuel Alito for the supreme court – and with the worst of the CIA-leak investigation behind him – the way is open for the president to regain the initiative after a frustrating summer and fall.

Presidents can remain powerful and important to the very end of their term.

In his final three years in office, Ronald Reagan a) forced through a major tax reform cutting the top tax rate to 28 percent, b) faced down Mikhail Gorbachev in a dramatic series of summit meetings, c) oversaw a bounceback from the worst one-day plunge in stock prices in history, and d) signed into law the first new entitlement program since 1974 (a health-care plan that was happily repealed in 1989 before it went into effect).

President Clinton was no Ronald Reagan: Much of his final term was wasted in scandals of his own making. Yet he too presided over an otherwise positive final three years, including the Kosovo war, the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, and the successful navigation of the 1997-98 global financial crisis.

We can be sure that dramatic events await President Bush as well. And while the faults of this president and the weaknesses in his administration have been unflatteringly highlighted in recent months, in the days ahead Americans will surely also be reminded of his strengths and merits.

But the president does not have to await events. There are things he can do right now to regain the initiative and reassert his mastery. Here are five suggestions for immediate action:

One: Get hiring. One good hire – Samuel Alito – has changed the mood in Washington from overcast to sunny. Just imagine what four or five more good hires could do, starting with the most pressing need of all: a powerful and admired secretary of the Treasury.

“Personnel is policy” is a saying from the Reagan days that George W. Bush has ignored to his cost. The president has surrounded himself with a small circle of trusted aides and advisers, and then beyond that, taken a remarkably casual attitude toward staffing the administration as a whole. While many of those hired have proven themselves solid and effective conservatives, many others seem animated by the spirit of the Bush 41 administration. (“Our people donÕt have ideologies,” goes one famous line from those days. “They have mortgages.”)

This belief-blind attitude toward staffing is one reason for the weird gap that has again and again opened between the presidentÕs bold words and his administrationÕs business-as-usual performance on issues ranging from homeland security to health-care reform. While the Bush personnel office cares intensely that a job candidate worked to help elect or reelect George W. Bush, they do not seem to care much whether the job candidate actually agrees with the policies George W. Bush got elected and reelected to execute.

Right now it seems that half of official Washington is urging the president to cashier Karl Rove. This is crazy: Rove is performing. The aides the president should be replacing are those who are not performing. And maybe he should start with the aides who are hiring the aides.

Two: Rediscover moral clarity. The president of Iran has just threatened to annihilate Israel as soon as he completes his nukes program. Alarming, no? Back in 2002, President Bush pledged to prevent the worldÕs most dangerous regimes from acquiring the worldÕs deadliest weapons. That commitment seems now to have fallen by the wayside.

What is the Bush administrationÕs North Korea policy? What is its Iran policy? Nobody seems to know. A conveniently timed leak tells us that Iran may still be years away from completing a bomb – so donÕt worry. A meaningless exchange of notes with North Korea is promoted as a dramatic diplomatic breakthrough.

Yes, the difficulties in Iraq have limited to some extent the administrationÕs freedom of action. But Iraq alone does not seem to explain the policy breakdown. It is as if the administration has lost sight of its original pledges and its own criteria for success. But if this administration leaves office with Iran and North Korea still trundling toward nuclear-power status, the administration will have failed – no matter how many negotiating rounds it worked through. ItÕs time to recollect what it was that the Bush administration went to Washington to do.

Three: Re-energize. Rising gasoline prices translate into falling poll numbers. Add surging bills for home heating this winter, and . . . well, 2006 starts looking like a very tough year for incumbents. The Bush administration devised and Congress has enacted energy reforms, some of them genuinely helpful, others more symbolic. The plan was intended to increase domestic energy production, especially oil and gas production. The planÕs authors hoped that if more of AmericaÕs energy originated in this country – or at least from within this hemisphere – the United States would be less vulnerable to supply shocks.

This plan, however, offered scant help to energy consumers. The price of oil and gas is set by international markets. Consumers care little whether their $3-a-gallon gasoline comes from Nigeria or Texas. They want cheap energy, not domestic energy. And over the past five years, energy has become steadily more costly, with no relief in sight.

In 2001 and 2002, the president courageously championed nuclear power as the long-term solution to the energy problem. Nuclear power is environmentally more benign than coal-fired electricity, and could be abundant and cheap enough someday to help hydrogen cars or other alternative motor fuels become a reality. Yet in half a decade, the U.S. has made little progress toward building new nuclear plants. Promoting nuclear power offers the president a way to identify himself with both national-security and consumer concerns, in ways that honor his own personal convictions. Time to go back to work on this subject.

Four: Look over the horizon. Starting from a weak political position in 2001, President Bush was often forced in his first term to deviate from his long-term principles for short-term survival: steel tariffs, the repeal of the farm reforms of the 1990s, signing McCain-Feingold, prescription drugs – the list goes on. Now that he is a reelected president, the only term he need care about is the long term. Yet the bill for those short-term concessions is now beginning to arrive. The prescription-drug plan is scheduled to go into effect next year. The costs will prove horrific. At the same time, the administration should brace itself against the disappointment and anger of seniors who are about to discover that it delivers less than many of them had hoped or expected.

As far as I can tell, almost nobody in the administration is preparing now to cope with this problem – which means that when it arrives it will jolt the administration as abruptly and unexpectedly as this summerÕs hurricanes.

To keep control of the agenda, the administration and Congress need to act now to anticipate trouble next year – including preparing proposals to reform the prescription-drug plan so as to control its costs. President ReaganÕs health entitlement was abolished almost as soon as it went into effect. It is not impossible that something like that could happen with George W. BushÕs drug benefit. If it did, a multi-trillion-dollar unfunded liability would suddenly vanish from the account books of the United States. That has to be bullish, right? And if the stock market is languishing next year, bullish news will surely be welcomed by many congressional voters.

Five: Return to Iraq. The administration sometimes seems to give the impression that it hopes that if it does not talk about Iraq, the voters wonÕt think about Iraq. But Iraq is always there, in the background, troubling American minds, influencing votersÕ perceptions. The administrationÕs curious unwillingness to talk in specific and convincing ways about the good news from Iraq creates political opportunities for its opponents to present the war as unremittingly catastrophic.

The Iraq war is the Bush administration. If Americans come to believe that the war was a costly and unnecessary mistake, that will be their verdict on George W. Bush too. The war wonÕt speak for itself. The president has to defend, champion, and explain the war – or else be destroyed by it.

He has a story to tell. The troops in Iraq are motivated and committed. They believe in the mission. More and more Iraqis are now joining the fight, upward of 80 battalions of troops in the top three grades of readiness. As Michael Ledeen has argued on National Review Online, intercepted communications from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Musab al-Zarqawi paint a picture of an insurgency in extreme distress. And the trial of Saddam Hussein reminds Iraq, the Middle East, and the world of the nature of the enemy in this conflict.

Perhaps the president should consider a return visit to Iraq. Failing that, the administration has to find ways to highlight the positive news that Central Command collects and fires into the ether every day. (You can read it yourself at www.centcom.mil.)

The great enduring mystery about the Bush administration has been the strange disparity between the boldness of the presidentÕs strategies and the extreme caution of his tactics; between the strength of his goals and the weakness of his methods; between the stirring eloquence of his major statements and the feeble uncertainty of the administrationÕs day-to-day communications. ItÕs the magnificent asset side of the ledger that sustains the administrationÕs friends; itÕs the troubling debits that embolden its enemies. If this presidency is to live up to the nationÕs best hopes, it must find some way – and fast – to balance its political bookkeeping.

Book’em, Jacques

David Frum November 15th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The French must really like urban riots–because they are responding to the violence in their suburbs with new policies that will almost certainly invite more and worse violence in the future.

Almost everybody agrees that the riots can be traced to two fundamental causes:

1. the failure of the French economy to generate jobs and opportunities for less-skilled workers; and

2. the failure of French society to assimilate the children and grandchildren of the immigrants who arrived from North Africa and the Middle East after the Second World War.

Some of us would add to the list a couple of additional causes.

The first is the collapse of law enforcement in France.

Perhaps you still think of the United States as the world’s most lawless society? Think again. Since 1973, total American crime rates have dropped by 40%; homicide rates by more than 50%; crimes against property by almost 60%.

While American crime rates have been dropping, European crime rates have been soaring. According to the international police agency Interpol, the United States suffered 4,161 crimes per 100,000 people in 2001; France suffered 6,941.

In the face of rising criminal disorder, France has retreated. United Nations data finds that France ranked 30th in the world in the number of criminal prosecutions per capita. (The U.S. ranked first.) And even after a French criminal is prosecuted and convicted, he is unlikely to spend long in prison. On average, a person convicted of armed robbery will serve 54 months in prison in the United States; 18 months in France.

Riots occur when rioters think they can get away with them–and in today’s France, a criminal can get away with a lot.

The second additional cause is the spread of a highly politicized form of Islam within France’s immigrant population.

The alienation and isolation reported in the French suburbs are not wholly due to the failures of French society. They can also be traced to the spread through Europe of forms of Islam that inculcate a pervasive sense of victimhood, and which preach that Muslims must dominate any society in which they live.

Zaki Badawi, perhaps the most eminent Islamic scholar in Britain, has observed that “Muslim theology offers, up to the present, no systematic formulation of the status of being in a minority.” It could be said that while the black American rioters of the 1960s were trying to force their way into majority culture; many of the Muslim French rioters of 2005 are trying to force their ways onto the majority culture.

To all this, the French authorities remain bizarrely blind. French president Jacques Chirac appeared on national television last night to promise new anti-discrimination laws and to offer a “volunteer corps” to help mentor and train 50,000 unemployed youth. How nice!

But Chirac said nothing about reforming the French economy to create work. He spoke of a “malaise” in France, but he said nothing about the concrete impediments the French government puts in the way of job creation–the high payroll taxes, the laws that make it almost impossible to fire workers (and that thus deter employers from hiring anyone who might not work out), the overvalued Euro, and so on.

Job creation would go far to do the work of assimilation and integration. Look at the American experience. Racial preferences and affirmative action programs were introduced in the 1970s without significantly narrowing the income gap between the races or softening the angry racial attitudes of the post-civil-rights era. Then came the 1990s boom. The unemployment rate dropped to 3%. Welfare was abolished. Young black men and women were pulled into the work force–and average black incomes rose faster than average white incomes. It is telling, I think, that there has not been a race riot in the United States since 1992.

Nor do Chirac and his government show any understanding that their weak policing invited urban violence. France does not need more youth mentors. France needs more police, more magistrates, more prisons, to protect the law-abiding and deter the violent.

Jobs and cops alone however will not finish the job of integration. Integration is a moral obligation not only for the majority, but also for the minority. African Americans have staked their claim on American society by centuries of participation and sacrifice, culminating in the extraordinary role they have played in the U.S. military. Social integration is not a one-way obligation binding only on the majority. Migrants have obligations too, and adapting to the customs and values of the society to which they have chosen to move heads the list.

In his speech last night, Chirac promised to remain “faithful to the values of France.” Brave words. But a nation that hopes to endure must do more than cling to its values.” It must enforce them.

America The Just

David Frum November 14th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

American Myths, a five-part series aimed at addressing Canadian misapprehensions about our southern neighbour, is a joint project of the National Post, the Dominion Institute and the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. In this second installment, columnist David Frum writes on the myth that Canada is a more “just” society than the United States.

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As he opened his 2004 election campaign, a scandal-battered Paul Martin reached for a time-tested election winner:

“I know the arithmetic of the tax cut equation,” he said. “You can have a country like Canada. You can have a country like the United States. That’s a choice you can make.

“But you cannot have a health care system like Canada’s, and you cannot have social programs like Canada’s, with taxation levels like those in the United States.”

Now, as a matter of literal truth, Martin’s words were not quite accurate. Canadian federal and provincial governments together spend just south of US$2,500 per person on health care. Multiplied by the 296 million people who live in the United States, that translates to US$740-billion — or US$60-billion less than American federal and state governments spend now on their existing health programs.

Put it this way: Canada could have American tax rates and the Canadian health care system — if Canada had an economy as rich as that of the United States.

But if Martin’s words were literally false, there is no doubt that they expressed a psychological truth. Many Canadians want to believe that America is a radically less just society than Canada — and Canadians most especially want to believe that when they notice that the American economy is outperforming Canada’s, as it did throughout the years when Paul Martin was managing Canada’s finances.

And so they tell themselves that America’s lower taxes and higher GDP per capita, lower unemployment and faster growth are all achieved at the expense of more important values: equality, fairness and health care for all.

And indeed, in some important ways, Canada does deliver better results to Canadians than U.S. society delivers to Americans. Crime is generally lower in Canada, as is infant mortality, as is child poverty. (In other respects, it should be said, Canada does worse: Unemployment is higher in Canada, average incomes are lower both before and after tax, and Canadians who suffer heart attacks and other illnesses requiring prompt medical attention are less likely to survive than their American neighbours.)

But is this “justice”?

Critics of American society have a habit of equating justice with equality — the more equal the society, the more just it is. By this criterion, Canada is more just than the United States, and France is more just than Canada, Denmark is more just than France, and so on. By this criterion, the Soviet Union was more just than post-Soviet Russia, Mao’s Cultural Revolution was more just than Hong Kong, and North Korea may well be more just than South Korea — and down the backward slide we go, from error to absurdity to horror.

There’s another and better way to think of justice: A just society is not one that seeks to achieve fair results, but one that lives by fair rules, fairly enforced. The philosophers describe this kind of justice as commutative rather than distributive justice. Lawyers describe it as “the rule of law.” Maybe it’s most vividly summoned up by a British music-hall song from the 1930s quoted in one of George Orwell’s essays:

“Oh you can’t do that here,

No you can’t do that here.

Maybe you can do that over there,

But you can’t do that here.”

What is it that they can do over there — but can’t do over here? Lawyers and philosophers have battled over precise definitions for centuries, but here are some of the main elements of a society under the rule of law:

1) The rules are equal: What is lawful for one person should be lawful for all; what is forbidden to one should be forbidden to all.

2) The rules are predictable: Individual rights and duties should be knowable in advance, and should not be changed after the fact without the individual’s consent.

3) The rules are stable: When the rules change, they change only with enough notice so that individuals can alter their behavior in time.

4) The rules are supreme: Nobody can be punished unless they have violated one of those equal, predictable, and stable rules.

You can find some version of those rules in every bill of rights of every modern democracy, including Canada’s. But it was the Americans who were the first to incorporate them into their fundamental law, 216 years ago. And even now, all these years later, the Americans still live by the principles of the rule of law more consistently than any other nation — and far more consistently, it is sobering to reflect, than Canadians … despite Canada’s free health care.

Take principle one, equality before the law. That principle has been bent in the United States by affirmative action and racial preferences, but it has not been utterly discarded. In her majority opinion in the 2004 case of Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld racial preferences at the University of Michigan Law School, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor opined that preferences should be seen as a temporary deviation from the enduring principles of equal justice. She warned that the court expected such preferences to disappear over the next 25 years, explaining: “Enshrining a permanent justification for racial preferences would offend this fundamental equal protection principle.”

But Canada has enshrined permanent racial preferences into Canadian law:

- Canadian citizens of native origin, for example, may hunt and fish when other citizens cannot. (R. v. Marshall, 1999.)

- British Columbians of native origin may claim lands on the basis of oral evidence that would be thrown out of court if offered by a non-native. (Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, 1997.)

- Generally speaking, governments may legally discriminate in favour of certain groups in hiring, firing and the distribution of public money. (Lovelace v. Ontario, 2000.)

The Canadian and American legal systems are likewise diverging in their respect for the stability and predictability of the law.

The U.S. constitution prohibits ex post facto laws and forbids states to pass laws impairing the obligations of contracts. In Canada, on the other hand, unmarried individuals have had the rights of marriage conferred on them and the obligations of marriage imposed upon them after the fact. (Miron v. Trudel, 1995; M. v. H., 1999). Private corporations have been punished for firing people they had every right to fire under the laws in place at the time. (Vriend v. Alberta, 1998.) And “final” marital separation agreements can be reopened by courts at any subsequent time, if those agreements are seen to disadvantage one spouse (Miglin v. Miglin, 2001) — although as a practical matter, courts will do so only if the spouse is the wife.

The increasing divergence between American and Canadian norms of justice is not occurring by accident. The rule of law is a fundamentally individualist concept, and the ideal of justice protected by the rule of law is libertarian, not egalitarian. Canadian courts, by contrast, increasingly think in collectivist terms. If in order to attain some vision of equality, men must be treated differently from women, or blacks from whites, or aboriginal Canadians from everybody else — well, so be it. Canada’s newest Supreme Court justice, Rosalie Abella, warns that courts err when they have “allowed the individualism of civil liberties to trump the group realities of human rights.”

Every legal system has its flaws and failures. The U.S. civil justice system wreaks plenty of havoc: Just a very few weeks ago, for example, the drug-maker Merck was hit with a $253-million judgment against its painkiller Vioxx, in a case marked by blithe disregard of scientific and medical evidence by a Texas jury. (“Jurors who voted against Merck said much of the science sailed right over their heads,” said the Wall Street Journal. ” ‘Whenever Merck was up there, it was like wah, wah, wah,’ said juror John Ostrom, imitating the sounds Charlie Brown’s teacher makes in the television cartoon. ‘We didn’t know what the heck they were talking about.’ “)

The defects of other legal systems are, however, weak condolence for the failures of one’s own. “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue,” decrees the lawgiver of Deuteronomy, and it is an obligation binding on each and every nation.

The United States has sought to pursue justice by adhering to the ancient ideals of the rule of law. Canada, like the social democracies of Europe, has attempted a different path. Justice has anciently been depicted blindfolded, weighing litigants in her scales without partiality. The Canadian ideal, however, increasing demands that Justice open her eyes — and put a thumb on the scales to assist her chosen favorites.

Almost four decades ago, the most anti-American of all Canadian prime ministers urged Canadians to make themselves a “just society.” It would shock him and those who think like him to hear those words applied instead to the United States. But that only means that in the interim, Canada has itself drifted so far away from justice as to have lost sight of the most fundamental and most important meaning of the word in the civilization to which Canada belongs.

The Questions Gomery Didn’t Answer

David Frum November 8th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

During the days when the Institutional Revolutionary Party ruled Mexico, the country would undergo a remarkable ritual every six years.

A new president would take power in the one-party state. He would immediately order an investigation into his predecessor’s abuses of power — and would discover to his horror that his former boss had been a thorough crook!

Alas, by the time the truth was exposed, the former president had already left the country with his billions. Oh, well. But at least the new leader would solemnly pledge to clean up Mexican politics so that the abuses of the past would never recur …. And then six years later, the ritual would be re-enacted all over again.

Canadians are now witnessing a similar farce.

Prime Minister Paul Martin is now claiming to have been exonerated by the Gomery inquiry. He truly, truly regrets all his predecessor’s wrongdoing and promises to take immediate steps to ensure it never happens again.

But can we please introduce a little reality into this performance?

Within hours of the release of the report, Paul Martin promised that the Liberal party would repay the money it should never have received, a sum Mr. Martin estimated at $1.14-million. Mr. Martin didn’t get around to mentioning when the money would be repaid — or on what terms. If a taxpayer makes a mistake on his tax form, he or she must pay interest and penalties. Will the Liberal party have to do that? Or will the whole sponsorship program turn into an interest-free campaign loan to be repaid in easy instalments over the next decade or so?

Sponsorship funds helped pay for the Liberal campaign in 2000. Had the Liberals been forced to reimburse taxpayers immediately, they would have faced real problems paying for their campaign in 2004. Instead, Mr. Martin played for time — and kept the benefit of the wrongfully acquired campaign funds for one additional election cycle.

Who knows what Mr. Martin would have done next if he had won the majority he expected? All Canadians do know is this: Paul Martin got himself elected prime minister in large part thanks to money his party improperly took from the Canadian taxpayer. And unless that money is repaid before spring 2006, the Liberals will have the use of hundreds of thousands of illegal dollars for a third election in a row. Nor do Canadians yet truly know how much the Liberals got in this way. $1.14-million is merely the Liberals’ own estimate of the party’s take.

Mr. Martin has referred the matter to the RCMP, which is welcome. But will the RCMP be allowed to investigate the matter to the bottom? Will the government bring civil and criminal actions to recover taxpayer dollars in full from the Liberal party? Over the past 15 years, Canadians have seen too many instances in which federal law-enforcement authorities lost their curiosity as they approached nearer and nearer the highest levels of government. What assurances can Mr. Martin give that this time, the police will do the job they never quite finished in past Liberal corruption scandals?

And the answer is: none worth believing.

Look at the way the Gomery inquiry was set up. Justice John Gomery was given a mandate to investigate the misuse of sponsorship funds — and only such funds. Allegations of abuse in, say, polling contracts, were not included in the scope of the inquiry. And yet there have been allegations of contracting abuses, and on a wide scale. These allegations centre not on Jean Chretien’s Prime Minister’s Office, but on Paul Martin’s Ministry of Finance.

Could such allegations possibly be true? Could it possibly be that those around the “exonerated” Paul Martin were favouring Mr. Martin’s friends and supporters in polling contracts? For the moment, that question seems fated to remain one of Ottawa’s unsolved mysteries — or should I say, one of Ottawa’s uninvestigated mysteries?

Under the new rules of the Ottawa game, the police and the media have access to information that might embarrass or disgrace Jean Chretien. Information that might in any way inconvenience Mr. Martin remains, however, as scarce as ever.

One-party states are corrupt states, and it was never realistic to imagine that Canada would be an exception to the rule. If Canadians want clean government, they will have to elect a new government. They will need a new Minister of Justice and a new Solicitor-General who will tell the RCMP to follow the trail wherever it leads — with no special protections, no doors locked, no company or organization marked off as beyond the jurisdiction of the police.

And if not? What if Canadians shrug and re-elect the Liberals one more time? If they succeed in getting away with all this, there would then be only one logical conclusion for the Liberals to draw: They were fools to take so little.

A Pariah Among Nations

David Frum November 1st, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Hours after Iran’s new President said Israel should be “wiped off the map,” Paul Martin stepped forward to speak for Canada:

“That kind of lack of respect, intolerance, anti-Semitism — this is the 21st century and that statement is just out of an era that is long past and never should have occurred.”

As Canadians have come to expect, the Prime Minister’s words were heartfelt, decent — and utterly, sublimely clueless.

“Out of an era that is long past”? Where has he been? Demands to destroy Israel and murder its people are as up-to-date as the iPod Nano. Can it really be that a Canadian prime minister remains unaware of the all-pervasiveness of genocidal anti-Semitism in today’s world? Since 9/11, Canadian foreign policy has again and again seemed strangely detached from the contemporary world. Now we know why: Canada’s leaders truly are detached from the contemporary world.

“That kind of lack of respect”? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not making ethnic jokes. He was fantasizing about nuclear war — a nuclear war that Iran may very soon acquire the weapons to wage.

“This is the 21st century.” So it is: and it is a century of terrorism, a century in which the religion of Islam has been perverted by some into a totalitarian ideology, a century in which weapons of mass destruction are becoming ever more widely distributed. Yet Canada continues to act as if the 1990s would last forever, with trade replacing security, and armed forces an obsolete relic of a violent past.

But that is not the real world. Our world is one in which an emerging nuclear power, Iran, has just threatened to annihilate an existing nuclear power, Israel. Dare Israel now wait until Iran has completed its bomb to see whether President Ahmadinejad means what he says? And if Israel does not wait — if it pre-empts the Iranian bomb program — how will Iran respond? Presumably by intensifying its support for anti-Israel and anti-Western terrorist movements. And so Ahmadinejad has just pushed the whole region closer to a major war.

And not just the region. Less noticed were his words about the United States. Ahmadinejad did not just promise a world “without Zionism.” He also spoke of a world “without the United States.” Maybe that too was just hallucination. But dare a prudent American president dismiss those words? Ahmadinejad gave his speech to an audience that included representatives of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Does that not rather explode the easy assurance that Shiite and Sunni extremists — Iran’s Mullahs and Palestinian terrorists, respectively — would never cooperate with one another? And knowing that members of Osama bin Laden’s family and personal retinue have found refuge in Iran, we have to reckon with the possibility of Iranian co-operation with al-Qaeda as well.

Nobody wants to see armed conflict between Israel and Iran or between the United States and Iran. But Ahmadinejad’s words should make clear that so long as Iran continues its nuclear program, the country’s provocative behaviour invites conflict. The only way to avert war is to stop Iran’s bomb — and that is going to require stronger medicine than International Atomic Energy Agency condemnations and Security Council resolutions.

Britain, France and Germany have been negotiating with Iran for two years. They have offered the Iranians trade benefits, security guarantees, goodies of every kind — trying to find something, anything, the Iranians want more than they want a nuclear bomb. No luck. The bomb is Iran’s top priority, and now we have an even more explicit idea of what Iran’s ayatollahs will do with it if they get it.

If the world is to stop Iran without resorting to war, it will have to find new ways to coerce Tehran. The menu of options begins with tougher sanctions, escalates to blockades on the flow of goods into Iran, proceeds from there to covert action against Iranian oil facilities, and reaches all the way up to air strikes on Iran’s intelligence services and secret police.

Over the past 25 years, Iran has made itself an international pariah state. It has been implicated in international terrorist atrocities from Berlin to Buenos Aries. It has lied and cheated on its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It was caught shipping arms to Yasser Arafat to support his terror war against Israel. Now it is boasting and bragging about the annihilation of a member state of the United Nations and the extermination of its population.

The Canadian government thinks that all this is very, very bad. So it is. But opinion alone counts for very little in the world. If Canada’s voice is to carry, it must be equipped with more than a voice. Canada needs the instrumentalities of power, from military force to intelligence services. Canada could help to undercut countries like Iran by accelerating the development of energy resources, to provide a secure source of oil to compete with the oil from pariah states like Iran. Above all, Canadian leaders need to cultivate a greater sense of realism about the world and its dangers — so that next time some thug-dictator fulminates about a “world without Zionism,” Canadians can feel confidence that their country is doing its part to build a world without dictators.