Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, June 4, 2012

A North American idea for a presidential election?

Modern campaigns defy the logic of economic development: the more money that’s on hand to spend and the more campaign planners know about market conditions today, the less they think about the future or tolerate new ideas.

Case in point: the 2012 US presidential election.

Some $2 trillion will be spent talking to voters about their economic concerns. A clear majority of those voters can be persuaded that one of the candidates can make a positive difference. In any event, only one set of policy makers will win and be assigned to play dice with America’s future. So, the stakes are high—whether the candidates are gamblers or not.

Under these bracing circumstances, America seems to be stuck in a rerun of France’s recent presidential election: Who can get us back to “normal”?

Romney would stick with the policies of George Bush; Obama wants to return to the 1990s, with Bill Clinton’s wife.

Democrats believe government can help business do more; Republicans believe everyone can get more out of government by giving it less. The only new economic idea of campaign year 2012 that is not already in circulation in China was Newt Gingrich’s public-private partnerships to colonize Mars.

It seems big money politics gags ideas, as well as talks.

When the day comes, however, when the campaigners can’t imagine how they’ll carry on without something new to say, here’s one to work up: rather than speculating about how to persuade or bully the world, why not consider how to complete the integration of North America’s two industrial, energy-rich, high-tech, high-income, highly skilled, free-enterprise, liberal federations—Canada and the United States?

Of course, there’s no focus group research on the subject and whoever first broaches the idea runs the risk of being called unrealistic or (ouch) off message.

However, neither Obama nor Romney will fire the American imagination by asking for A Mandate To Negotiate With John Boehner.

A grand bargain with Canada—a deal that would require sixty votes in the Senate and a majority government in Canada—could put real substance behind the promise of both liberals and conservatives to preserve America’s global leadership and enhance the benefits for middle class Americans from a growing global economy.

A common regulatory framework for energy security and environmental stewardship, a custom and currency union, the elimination of all present border constraints on Canadians and Americans, reciprocal employment rights for skilled workers, graduates and professionals, and joint Canada-US public works to modernize the infrastructure of the Mid-West and the North-West would go a great distance to modernize the “supply side” of the North American economy.

Extreme protectionists and chauvinists on both sides of the border would take offense, only adding a little drama to time-tested ideas.

Sure, there are ready objections to these ideas.

Romney might feel he has nothing to prove as a free enterpriser and stick to attacking Obama on the Canada-US Keystone pipeline delay. Obama may fear objections from Mexican-Americans and industrial union protectionists. 

However, the Republican Party can’t sell free enterprise by just attacking the federal government. And Obama’s credibility with voting Mexican-Americans is sturdy enough to be able to stand for equality for lawful immigrants and a different economic relationship with Canada today than with Mexico.

After working with the governments of Canada and Ontario to subsidize GM and Chrysler, could Obama attack Romney if he proposed an economic union with Canada? Conversely, would Romney dare ridicule Obama—the most popular politician in Canada—for over-reaching?

Five months to go, just wondering.

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