Sunday, September 13, 2009

Johnny Canuck and his Uncle Sam (I)

It's something of a cliched definition of Canada: "America with health care." Likewise, of America: "Canada with guns."
Robert Heinlein defiined Canada as a part of America so smart it's figured out how to avoid paying taxes to Washington. Here's a definition from Richard Staines: "Canadians are generally indistinguishable from Americans, and the surest way of telling the two apart is to make this observation to a Canadian."

You get the picture. Too bad it's wrong. Canada and America are different countries and we're diverging more and more as time goes by.

I'd thought that Obama was going to reverse that trend, but I was wrong. For one thing, despite being, in the words of his more ardent enemies at least, a socialist or a communist, he still falls well to the right of political center in Canada, something a very few Canadians are just beginning to understand. For another, there are mighty forces arrayed against President Obama and they're getting bolder by the day.

Health care is only a symptom of what a majority of Canadians regard as an American disease and a growing, almost-majority of Americans think is a Canadian disorder. Quite simply, we have wildly different views on the role of government in people's lives.

(Stipulated: there are many Americans, primarily residents in coastal states, whose mindset at least approaches a typical Canadian's. And there are many Canadians, mostly but not entirely confined to Alberta, who are Americans in all but name. I've had repeated online dealings with one resident of inland British Columbia that have had my question his citizenship and my own sanity. In other words, I know I'm speaking in generalities, caveat lector, your mileage may vary, &c.)

Mark Steyn--another Canadian who somehow missed the standard three dollops of Canuck compassion given to most of us in childhood and who, unsurprisingly, now resides in the United States, opines in his latest anti-Obama tirade that

"governmentalization of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left-of-center political culture — one in which elections are always fought on the Left’s issues and on the Left’s terms, and in which “conservative” parties no longer talk about small government and individual liberty but find themselves retreating to one last pitiful rationale: that they can run the left-wing state more effectively than the Left can. Listen to your average British Tory or French Gaullist on the campaign trail pledging to “deliver” government services more “efficiently.”

(Aside: the damnedest thing is, sometimes we believe them. Conservative parties have a dismal track record, both in Canada and the United States, when it comes to fiscal management. Go back half a century and in the majority of cases you will find that right-wing governments have left their books in far worse shape then they found them. In Canada, Mulroney almost tripled the national deficit he inherited from Trudeau --who, I'd been brainwashed to believe, was a fiscal moron. Bush took Clinton's surplus and created a deficit so large it's now for all intents and purposes a black hole. If the States ever manages to balance its books again, it'll be a blue-sky miracle.)

I look at Steyn's statement up there and don't know where to start. It seems to me that he assigns no weight whatsoever to the positives of Obama's plan (one big one: universality; another: cost-effectiveness). In Steyn's little mind, Obama's in this for no other reason than political gain.
Which is hysterical, when you stop to think about it. Obama won't see any political gain out of health care reform. If he's lucky enough to get it through a hostile House and Senate at all.

"The Left's issues and...the Left's terms". Let's reframe this bit of nonsense just a little. The American Left is, on most issues, smack dab in the middle of the global political spectrum--if not a little right of center. It's only because the American Right is so waaaaaaay out there that "the Left" is so sinister to your average American voter.
What does Steyn mean by "the Left's" issues? We all know what "the Right"'s issues are...abortion, gay marriage, and lots and lots of money for companies owned by people on the Right. (Perhaps I've simplified this...but not by much.) What would Steyn characterize as "the Left"'s issues, and why aren't all of these things American issues?

"Individual liberty" occurs to me that right-wingers have been misinterpreting "liberty" for generations now. Indeed, BushCo managed to frame the whole "war on terror"--which so far has removed a great many liberties--as an exercise in preserving liberty.

Ask a gay Texan how free he is. He can't marry, he can't adopt many places he can't even display the slightest sign of affection towards his partner, not without endangering them both.
Ask an American freethinker the price of his free thought. He can't very well run for public office or even draw attention to himself without potential harassment or worse. (If McCain-Palin had won, most assuredly worse. I'm more and more convinced that woman would have worked her tail off to bring about a theocratic state.)
And how carefree is your average American Muslim these days? How free are the over twenty percent of the American population without adequate health insurance? How free are the millions who live in poverty, lacking the hand up that Fox News would mischaracterize as a handout?

My country is not perfect. Far from it. We treat our Natives worse than America treats most of its minorities; our current government is considerably further right than most of us would prefer, only kept in power by ineffectual wet-noodle opposition and that other most Canadian of traits, apathy.

And I doubt you'd ever see this in the United States of America, no matter how divided those "united" states are becoming.

But we approach things differently up here. We look to solve problems not to benefit the few, but the many. We don't treat civilization so much like a zero sum game, where there must be winners and therefore there must be losers. In short, the "character of our country" means we pull together.


Rocketstar said...

You commie socialist! ;o) On the 'This" topic, what exactly do you mean? We already have children 'pledging allegiance" and it includes God, unfortunately or do you mean we woudl fight it more.

Ken Breadner said...

Rocket, can you imagine the reaction if parents in the U.S. demanded the school boards scrap the singing of The Star Spangled Banner?