Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad. Oh, and You Too America

With the impending 4th of July holiday just days away, I find myself becoming a little sentimental. No, I'm not American, but spent several years in cottage country, where the summer months were shared with our neighbours to the south.

But the holiday for me is a little more profound. That was also my father's birthday, and though he's been gone for more than 30 years, I still miss him terribly.

He was an extremely intelligent man, beaten down by life, but he never lost his sense of humour. A great story teller, I still have trouble today determining which of his orations were fact and which were fiction, but his delivery was always spot on.

When I was very young I noticed the flurry of activity around the cottages on the lake at this time of year, and our little general store would have shelves cleared of canned goods to make way for an array of firecrackers.

Fountains, spinners, poppers, rockets and burning school houses. All designed to inspire awe.

We never celebrated a Canada Day then. There was a Dominion Day, with races, picnics and such, but nothing as ostentatious as the 4th of July.

I remember asking my dad why the fireworks, and in his usual devilish way, he told a tale of how he had single handedly saved the United States from some foreign invasion, so every year they showed their gratitude with lavish parades and spectacular displays, to commemorate his birthday.

From that day on, and for a few more years, I believed the story, so would hang around the local shop during the days leading up to the occasion, telling everyone who'd listen , that my dad was the famous gent that created all this excitement.

Looking back, it amazes me that no one set me straight. Instead they'd feign surprise and tell me that I should be very proud. It wasn't until my Michigan aunt got wind of it and admonished my father for pulling my leg.

But in some strange way, I still think of those fireworks as celebrating the life of a man who still has so much influence on me today.

OK. Now that the sappy stuff is over, the reason for this blog entry, is to share an article I read today, by a Canadian columnist and his views on the holiday.

A reason to celebrate the Fourth of July
A Canadian in the White House
Globe and Mail
Lawrence Martin
July 2, 2009

For much of its history, Canada fashioned its prosperity on the basis of an open border with the United States. That era, as former Washington ambassador Allan Gotlieb has perceptively observed, could well be drawing to a close - undermined, as he puts it, by the post-9/11 juggernaut of U.S. national security.

What was once Canada's enormous economic advantage, being neighbour to No. 1, has now become a stumbling block. Much of bilateral trade requires goods to cross the border several times. In an open-border era, it works well. In a real-border era, not so well. Distant nations whose goods must only enter the U.S. once are sometimes better positioned.

Add to this development America's recession-inspired trend toward protectionism. Add to this the seeming disinterest of the Obama administration in any kind of strategic relationship with Canada - and you have a bilateral mix that is decidedly unfavourable.

Given it all, given the wreckage in the American financial and auto sectors, you'd think Canadians would be thumbing their noses at the neighbour this Fourth of July. But that's far from being the case - and the reason is far from complicated. There is, you might say, a Canadian in the White House. You could make the case, in a provocative frame of mind, that with his centre-left philosophical tilt, Barack Obama - who knows little about this country - is closer to the Canadian mainstream than the American one.

À la Canada, he is a moderate who favours conciliation over confrontation. He is, as well, a multilateralist and a multiculturalist. He pursues nuclear disarmament and a health-care system like ours. He stands up against climate-change deniers. And he is not blinded by any sense of American superiority or muscle-flexing Manifest Destiny or fatuous conceit that he is carrying out the will of God.

To be sure, he buckles to political pressures, dismaying some who see his idealism already diminished. But the essence of Barack Obama's governance is as Canadians hoped when they saw him campaigning. He rises above old American prejudices. Being a politician with an independent mind and an international perspective - rare qualities in a U.S. president - his leadership is based on broad global interests more so than narrow domestic biases.

There's the key. Great leaders understand the inherent stupidity of the “we're better than you” school of nationalism that, by definition, can only lead to conflict and carnage. This is what Mikhail Gorbachev understood and what enabled him, with the help of Ronald Reagan, to end the Cold War. It is what Mr. Obama understands.

He is being beaten up by critics for his response to the election in Iran. But while many, particularly Republicans, want to see another Cold War, this one with the Islamic world, the Obama approach is to reach out, not drive wedges.

He will drive the hard-liners nuts - and that will have Canadians lustily cheering him on. America has a long-standing tradition of exaggerating foreign threats. Think of George Bush's Iraq war, the domino theory that propelled the Vietnam War, the enemy fixation that produced McCarthyism, the sinking of the Maine etc.

Iran is the new bogeyman, but there's a good chance that, given the Obama view of the world as family, given his positive spirit, his knowledge of how Western powers trampled over Iran through history, it won't come to that.

The President's treatment of the border issue has not served our interests well. He campaigned on a promise to end the climate of fear induced by 9/11 and a Bush/Cheney administration that saw adversaries everywhere. Giving Janet Napolitano a long leash to run the Department of Homeland Security is hardly in keeping with the pledge.

The border/trade issue is a wake-up call for Canadians. The “all eggs in one basket” approach was short-sighted to begin with. The current confluence of forces, as Mr. Gotlieb suggests, could finally serve to push Canada off its single market obsession and embrace the giant economies of the Far East.

That would be in keeping with the global spirit of Barack Obama. He may come up short in terms of our bilateral interests. But there's a larger world out there that he approaches from a new and enlightened optic. Canadians rightfully salute it.

Ironically, Stephen Harper is more American, at least in the Republican sense, than the current U.S. President; while Barack Obama is more Canadian than the current Prime Minister, in the sense of everything that is good and decent and what used to define us as Canadians.

As an intellectual equal, Michael Ignatieff has a better chance of forging ties with Obama, though he also recognizes that there is a big world out there.

I want my country back. My dad would agree.

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