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, July 29, 2013

Chrystia Freeland, you can come home and still say “we”

Chrystia Freeland should be a fabulous catch for the upcoming federal by-election in Toronto. This time, Canada’s Liberal Party—the shoppers' party—has landed a young, public intellectual with a growing reputation in Washington, New York, and London. Why would a cosmopolitan problem-solver, at the height of her career, want to represent old Rosedale as a member of the oldest Liberal machine in the Western World? To my mind, that’s the question.  

To pundits, however, and, apparently, to Freeland this morning, the question now is whether she can talk enthusiastically as a proud Canadian.

Blogging in Maclean’s Magazine, Paul Wells spots trouble in this paragraph Freeland penned just last week in reviewing Obama’s speech on the economy:

“Obama pointed to some of the familiar political drivers of this shift — weaker unions and tax cuts at the top. But, to his credit, he also noted the structural factors — in particular, technological change and globalization — that have helped hollow out the middle class. These are the heart of the problem, because they are both largely positive and hard to change. We can’t stop them, and most of us don’t want to — but we surely do want to reverse their devastating consequences for the middle class.”

The problem, clearly, isn’t partisan. Indeed, at its heart are good things worth preserving: technology and globalization. Is Freeland too realistic, too capitalistic, and too committed to the liberal economic values of the past? No. Of course not.

Rather, Freeland used: “we” and “us” when referring to the economic challenge of our time. How many times has she done this before? Will this issue carry along on hundreds of little small legs?

Michael Ignatieff, the last failed Liberal import, got in trouble using the term “we” when he was addressing Americans for unique and arguable reasons.

He’d made a living as a writer singing the virtues of Canadian nationalism and Canada’s separateness from the US. Most important, he used “we” to promote American jingoism and war in Iraq. There was no way to pretend that he was trying to or even thinking about Canadians when he waved the flag of aggressive American Exceptionalism.

Conversely, there was nothing in what Freeland expressed that was exclusively American. Surely, a majority of voters in Rosedale would agree that what she said applies to Canada’s high wage economy as well. Furthermore, Canadians increasingly accept that they also have a huge stake in a balanced US economic recovery.

It’s disappointing, therefore, to read Freeland’s newborn nationalism in her op-ed piece The path leading to middle-class Prosperity in this morning’s Globe and Mail:

“At a time when the rest of the world is struggling to live with one of the human consequences of globalization – mass immigration – Canada is a model for how to make a multicultural, multilingual community really work. We can do the same when it comes to ensuring middle class prosperity in the 21st century. Indeed, we are much better at this than the United States, where income inequality has become an economically and socially devastating chasm. We can’t let that happen to us.”

There’s a smugness and simplicity in that statement, and it belies the energy, passion, and optimism that she has displayed in the past about the US and the West’s ability to restore shared prosperity.

Freeland doesn’t have to pander to anti-Americans to be a successful Canadian politician in a renewed North American economy.

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