Lorne Gunter January 31st, 2009 at 9:52 pm 6 Comments
It might strike Americans as odd that people in other countries gather to watch U.S. presidential elections as if they were their own. But they do.
Every four years on the first Tuesday in November, for example, I host a dinner for fellow political junkies. We eat, drink and watch the returns come in with almost as much fascination as we would follow the results in a Canadian election.
I can’t imagine a group of Americans reciprocating; heating up some wings, cracking open a few Budweisers, then trying in vain to find a Canadian news channel on the satellite dish so they can see who wins in Lotbinière-Chutes-dela-Chaudière, Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox & Addington or Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo.
I didn’t host a meal in 2008 for the first time in seven elections because the outcome was a foregone conclusion – no drama, no dinner. Besides, I was uncertain whether I could keep food down with all the media swooning, gloating, gushing and sycophancy that was certain to dominate coverage after Obama was declared the winner.
But why this absorption with your politics? Because who wins the White House matters in our politics. To an extent unappreciated in the U.S. and unadmitted to in other countries, the direction of American politics affects policy in other Western countries.
And not just foreign policy.
The foreign policy impact is the most obvious because it is direct. If U.S. troops go marching off to war in some foreign land, our troops may have to come along in a coalition. And, of course, there is the leftist canard that if your troops invade some far off country, and prick anti-Western resentment in the region, that makes the world more dangerous for the rest of us, too.
There is a policy debate going on in Canada right now over what to do if President Obama asks us to keep troops in Afghanistan beyond our planned withdrawal in mid-2011.
We’ve been on the ground there since the start in 2001. In early 2006, we began doing much of the frontline fighting in Kandahar province. We’ve taken our turn commanding all the NATO forces in the region and even agreed not to come home in February 2009 as originally planned, just to help keep the Taliban at bay.
It was all our Prime Minister Stephen Harper could do, though, to convince Parliament to vote for a deployment extension to June 2011. Even with the changeover from the much disliked George W. Bush to the much idolized Barack Obama, there is not public taste to push our mission beyond that. The most recent polls, taken after the inauguration, show nearly two-thirds of Canadians want our soldiers home according to the set deadline regardless of who is in the Oval Office.
The irony is that our previous Liberal government sent troops to Afghanistan so we could look like a faithful ally without sending any soldiers to Mr. Bush’s Iraq war. Now Mr. Obama seems determined to make Afghanistan his war, so our previous avoidance strategy has plunked us in the middle of the kind of intense war we were hoping to wriggle out of.
But foreigners watch American elections intently because the winners and losers direct our domestic policy debates, too, even if we don’t realize it.
On election night in 2000, I was busy flipping burgers on the barbecue when CBS took Florida out of George Bush’s column – where the network had placed the state shortly after polls closed – and gave it to Al Gore.
I started stomping around the house, spatula in hand, muttering obscenities under my breath.
My guests wondered why the Florida switch had made me so mad. There were 49 other states, they pointed out. I explained that by my calculations, though, there was no way Mr. Bush could win the election without Florida’s (then) 25 Electoral College votes.
I was as ambivalent about Mr. Bush’s policies then as now, but I wanted badly for him to win in 2000 to keep that eco-freak Albert Gore, Jr. out of the White House.
Most of the time I don’t care what self-destructive policies nations adopt for themselves. If the U.S. wanted to elect a “green” president who would have sought to impose all sorts of economically crippling environmental regulations that is its business.
But I was a passionate global warming sceptic even then and I knew one of the few barriers keeping our Liberal national government from diving headfirst into a full Kyoto implementation was the refusal by the U.S. government to back the U.N. climate treaty signed in Japan’s ancient capital in 1997.
Had Mr. Gore been elected, the tone of the administration regarding Kyoto would have changed. Even if the Senate had refused to ratify U.S. participation in the treaty, a President Gore would have said all the environmentally correct things, perhaps even used executive orders to effect most of Kyoto’s emission targets anyway.
With the rhetoric different south of the border (to we Canadians, that means in the U.S., not Mexico), it would have been harder to fight the global warming insanity up here.
And it’s not just the environment.
Over the past decade, the political momentum in Canada has been slowly shifting away from our government-monopoly, one-treatment-fits-all health care system and towards a blended public-private system.
That gradual creep away from socialized medicine will now halt or reverse because President Obama has promised socialized care Stateside. Supporters of our centrally planned health system will now be able to ward off much needed private innovation by saying, “See, even the Americans have come to realize that health care is too important to be left to the private sector.”
On welfare, capitalism and financial reregulation, gun control, Middle East policy or the war on terror, America has often been the last, best bastion of common sense in the Western world. And because you remained sensible, the rest of us had to retain some sensibility.
But now that you have elected a president who buys into all the shibboleths and myths about global warming and government planning and jihadis really being decent peace-lovers eager to embrace the West if only we would keep open minds, there is now less chance for the rest of us to stem the tide of “progressive” policies.
That’s really why your elections matter so much to the rest of the world.