So Canadians are re-enacting the War of 1812. Interesting. And the federal government is paying for the ads:
Although it produced “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the War of 1812 does not get much attention in the United States. In Canada, however, the federal government is devoting surprising attention to the bicentennial of the conflict, which it describes bluntly in a new television commercial as an act of American aggression against Canada.As a Canadian, the War of 1812 isn't new to me. I grew up reading about it in history books, typically framed in lesson plans as the "War Americans Lost But Refuse To Admit." It was our good, defensive, war.
However, today's Times article confirms a feeling I've been having for some time: Prime Minister Harper is fanning the flames of anti-Americanism to disguise his own destructive, extremist, anti-regulatory agenda. And it's working.
I'm an expatriate now, but I go home frequently, and have countless relatives in Canada from coast to coast. So, Canadians, take what I say with a grain of salt. But do consider it. I benefit tremendously from hearing the Canadian perspective on U.S. politics--that blast of cold water that comes with every political discussion--so I hope you'll consider this friendly semi-outsider's perspective on yours.
During the Bush years, many of us ex-pats would talk longingly about going back home to Canada. Our relatives were very encouraging, if a little smug. Come back, they would say. Come back to a sane government, to rational policies. Get away from the cowboy, from the shrill political discourse and the toxic anti-regulatory climate to a place where people care about one another's health and welfare.
Almost every conversation about politics would end with, Don't you wish you were living up here?
In 2006, when Stephen Harper became prime minister, these conversations didn't really change. After all, they would say, he's a lot better than Bush. Even your Democrats are more conservative than our Conservatives. I would nod. Yep. I knew that. I'd heard that all through childhood, all through university. Every time I opened the paper in Canada, it was there.
2008 changed things for me. I began to get a little skeptical about Canadians' assumptions about politics. For one thing, I couldn't help but notice that their news was a little...skewed. It's been striking, over the past few years, that they knew a lot more detail, for example, about the wingnuts than even I did, and I'm a self-described political junkie after all. Your elections are ridiculous, they would say. Don't you want to come home?
Wait a second, I would say. President Obama is not a wingnut. He's fighting against wingnuttery. Do you really think President Obama is more conservative than Harper?
Oh, yes, they would assure me. After all, he didn't even propose a public option for health reform. And how could I argue with that?
But my doubts kept growing. Harper strengthened his government in the 2008 election, and then secured a majority in 2011. But my relations seemed fixated on U.S. politics. Every time I talked to them, they wanted to commiserate about Sarah Palin, or Michele Bachman, or Herman Cain. Canadian newspapers seemed chock full of American nonsense. My relatives would quote Limbaugh and Santorum to me verbatim, they were reciting details from the Republican primary debates, they knew the positions of obscure figures like Rick Perry that I had dismissed as irrelevant months before.
Don't you want to move back here? they would ask again and again. Even as Harper cut back regulations on everything from food to energy extraction, they were telling me that Canada was still the mecca of civic responsibility I had grown up believing it to be. It's not like I reflexively dismissed this idea. It's not like I didn't know that the U.S. is the enemy of Canada (and civil society)--geez, I'd read Lament for a Nation in high school. But it seemed to me that this was a different U.S., potentially on a different path. And maybe it was a different Canada. Things had changed, but the rhetoric in Canada was stuck in the 80s.
What if it's a big propaganda campaign? I began to wonder. What if Harper's tapping into Canada's anti-Americanism for his own benefit? After all, it's a great way to mask his extremist agenda. It also prevents Canadians from considering president Obama's less conservative policies as legitimate. Needless to say, it also diminishes confidence in Obama, and the Democrats, among the (numerous) Canadian ex-pats down here.
Have I lost my Canadian insight? Has living here converted me, an immigrant's version of the Stockholm syndrome? Surely not. After all, I still believe that we (Canadians) won the War of 1812. (Or, more accurately, Britain did--Canada was not an independent nation until 1867).
But it might be so. I have to confess I'm not convinced anymore that just being Canada--alone--constitutes a shield from criticism, or safety from internal extremists, or protection against the Canadian government's own, homegrown, destructive policies. Painful as it might be (even for me) to believe, it's just possible that the U.S. is not the sole villain in Canada's political drama. It might be time to begin looking much closer to home.
*Snooker: n. "to cause to believe what it untrue."