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)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Canada’s necessary election night smugness

Kindly Canadian pundits have worked hard to steel us for tonight’s presidential election returns. High morale holds Canada together, and our morale is vulnerable every four years in November. Indeed, without preparation, this evening could be quite unpleasant.

We know the next president’s biggest decisions—and mistakes—will be felt all along the world’s longest, most affluent suburb. Those of us who still give a damn about politics have taken sides, and very much want our candidate to win. Yet, unlike millions of fellow American partisans, we can’t feel that we did our part. We can’t say we voted, contributed money, or were even heard when we editorialized.

We’d feel powerless—if we hadn’t first assured ourselves that we're better off up here, as we are.

Smug powerlessness has been a winning formula in Canada ever since our British governors won our deference with free land, cheap government, and predictions that America’s mob democracy would eventually collapse.

Until after the Second World War, the competition for Canada’s political imagination was between sprawling America and the mighty British Empire. Canadians today, however, are invited to embrace a more ambitious idea: now, apparently, we can compare Canada alone against the United States.

Unlike impeccably managed little Sweden, Canada isn’t merely a statistical jewel north of a superpower. We’re great too.
Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail held out against this new nationalism for years, exasperating many of Canada’s nicest people. This morning, she blinked. In "We're the lucky country," she acknowledges that she used to be irritated by our "smug superiority complex," then goes on to make amends. Canada gets stuff done. Our celebrities are bankers, we have mountains of valuables to sell China, our public pension plans are sound, and our cultural differences are of little consequence.

Maybe her heart wasn’t in it; she wasn’t convincing.

America’s public sector is no more "bankrupt" than Canada’s was in the 90s, and unspectacular politicians got re-elected fixing Canada’s. Setting aside our talent for digging things out of the ground, our manufacturing industries are less competitive and are falling further behind the US. Canada’s currency has made it back to par—at the peak of a resource boom that will eventually crash to earth. 

The US Congress today may be deadlocked, but American democracy is still embarrassingly more engaged, talented, demanding, and transparent than ours.

People, of course, will keep coming to Canada for its underlying economic potential and attractive urban environment. Many families are attracted to Canada’s relative quiet and apparent lack of danger. However, disgruntled Americans will not be “fleeing” north after today’s election.

The Americans who’ll be most upset, above all, are small-d democrats. American democrats are not likely to walk away from the most important political arena in the free world for a country that can’t bother to elect its upper house, select its head of state, properly review Supreme Court appointments, or dare to open its constitution for amendment.

Intelligent Europeans long ago stopped trying to look down on America. It’s a European sport Canadians should finally surrender to as well.

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