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The world crosses its fingers

Monday, November 1, 2004

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Written by Scott Piatkowski

Molly Ivins, the columnist credited for coining the nickname “Shrub” for George W. Bush, came to visit Canada in August. Writing from Alberta (which she correctly noted was “the province of Canada most like West Texas”), Ivans shared with her readers the great puzzlement felt by Canadians over the very real prospect that George W. Bush may be re-elected:

"You couldn't possibly …" they begin, only to break off. "Are you not aware of what …" "Surely you realize how …" But they can think of no polite way of asking if we are such freaking idiots that we haven't noticed the damage that has been done by the Bush administration to the American reputation all over the world. One tries to explain that "Who cares what the rest of the world thinks?" is a common American reaction, leaving the poor Canadians to quietly mutter, "Oh, dear."… So I have been at some pains to try to answer the ever-so-delicately phrased questions: Are you people actually going to re-elect that nincompoop? (I doubt a Canadian would ever actually ask an American that question -- this is free interpretation on my part.)… What is most striking to me every time I visit this country is how much more Canadians know about the United States and the rest of the world than many Americans do. Because they are generally less provincial than we and certainly pay more attention to world news, they are acutely aware of how much the Bush administration has increased anti-Americanism around the globe. That's why so many of them are stupefied at the idea he might be re-elected: They perceive him as having done great harm to his own country.

This sense of incredulity regarding the perilous state of American democracy is hardly unique to Canadians, but it seems particularly acute here because we are their neighbours. A survey conducted for Maclean’s in February (before the Democrats had even chosen their candidate) found that only fifteen per cent of Canadians surveyed indicated that they would vote for Bush if given the opportunity. Most notably, Bush would lose badly even if that hypothetical right to vote was confined to Canadians who support the Conservative Party.

Of course, only citizens of the United States will get to vote in the American Presidential election on November 2. But, the rest of the world will surely be affected by the outcome – in many cases, even more so than by elections that occur in their own countries. While a victory by Democratic challenger John Kerry would hardly be a panacea, America would clearly be a better place and the world would definitely be a safer place without George W. Bush in the White House.

Bush seems almost pathologically incapable of telling the truth. His administration has systemically undermined hard-won freedoms both at home and abroad and shamelessly exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to excuse their own failings. Through his ill-advised tax cuts and spending decisions, he has turned a record budget surplus into a record budget deficit. He has risked alienating even his few remaining allies (“You forgot Poland”) with his actions in Iraq, where the mission is far from accomplished. Bush even claims that God speaks to him, in which case he’s a remarkably poor listener.

Prime Minister Paul Martin has ordered his cabinet and caucus to stop offering opinions on the election. Last week, after Environment Minister Stephane Dion and Human Resources Minister Joe Volpe expressed a preference for a Kerry victory, Martin warned them (and others who may be tempted to speak up) to shut up. “The Americans will choose their president like Canadians will choose their prime minister and I think the commentary should end there.”

There are some Americans who do feel a sense of embarrassment about their government, but they have been shouted down for the most part. In a recent interview, for example, Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison commented:

Do I have a feeling of America going backwards? Sure. And I can't tell you how frightening it is – to see battles we thought we had already won... We're fighting to vote again. We’re fighting to protest. This is a major crisis. We're at the edge of a cliff. Do we fall off? Or do we step back? Ever since the election in 2000, Paralyzed, aghast, seething. Really, it was a form of paralysis. Everyone was speechless. Then, after 11 September, there was a moment for us as a nation... for consolidation. Someone needed to act like a grown-up, and no one did. No one did. If Bush wins, the dread will move on to another level. Mishandled, wicked, duplicitous. Whatever happens with these wars, they cannot be waged properly by this administration.

But, the sad reality is that – regardless of the outcome of next week’s election -- nearly half the American electorate will still believe that Bush deserved to be re-elected. That can only mean that Ivans is right; they simply don’t care about what’s good for the rest of the world. The rest of the world has no alternative but to cross our fingers and hope for the best.


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