As a Canadian living in Washington, DC, I take pleasure in reading the larger Canadian daily newspapers. If I rely solely on the agenda-ridden American media, it’s difficult to get a balanced perspective of the US role in world events. On the topic of US affairs, the comparatively sane Canadian journalistic voices often cut through the American subtext and jingoism. It’s therefore troubling to come across the writings of Canadians who naively take American spin at face value.
A recent rant in the Toronto Sun ("Bush shows Canadians what they’re missing", Jan 31, 2002) by Senior Associate Editor Linda Williamson, is an example of this embarrassing phenomenon. Williamson compares President Bush’s performance, with respect to both his response to terrorism and his State of the Union address, with that of Canada’s leadership. She celebrates the American President’s "display of patriotic resolve" while decrying Canada’s supposed lackluster role in the "War On Terror."
First off, let me make my bias clear. My position is that the war Williamson is talking about is between the USA against its enemies, with only a cursory role, if any, for Canada. I don’t want to see us be goaded into buying the propagandist stance that this conflict is a war between the "civilized" and "uncivilized" worlds. To suggest that this is a responsibility to be shared equally by all Western countries is to deny the unforgiving unilateralism of the Bush administration’s actions, up to and including defiance of the Geneva Conventions in its handling of al Qaeda prisoners. To judge it by its actions and not its words, the Bush administration’s stance has always been that this is their fight alone; others are invited only if they can lend credibility when international law might need to be sidestepped.
While Williamson is embarrassed by Canada’s failure to adopt a definitively hawkish voice, I am more embarrassed by the voices in our media and government which celebrate and seek to emulate American insularity and reactionism. Many Canadians scoffed at American hypocrisy when commentators Bill Maher and Susan Sontag were accused of being traitorous for having spoken against US military interests. But soon after, some in Canadian parliament dared to discuss official censure for John Ralston Saul for having espoused similar views. Despite being the spouse of the Governor General, Ralston Saul is a citizen granted the same rights of free speech as the rest of us.
Unlike the nervous climate south of the border, however, cooler Canadian heads prevailed and the inappropriateness of official Parliamentary censure was eventually realized. ompare that outcome to the threatening words of White House spokesman Ari Fleisher ("All Americans must watch what they say") and Senator John McCain ("Now is not the time for such divisive, destructive things as dialogue and debate"). Most frightening were these words from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: "[It is] urgent that all Americans be quiet, stop asking questions, accept the orders of authorities, and let us get on with the important work of defending liberty." At least Canadian leadership knew the line between democracy and dictatorship, and knew when not to cross it. This, to me, is an ethical triumph.
Instead of celebrating Canadian ethics and political sophistication, Linda Williamson expresses sarcastic disdain for "backbench Liberals who… decide to take a stand –against, of all things, US treatment of those poor al-Qaida [sic] prisoners." She objects to Canada’s sovereignty, our failure to blindly follow American foreign policy, and our desire to see international law upheld. Mixing war and tax law, she further celebrates Bush’s tax cuts and stimulus package as strong, patriotic efforts to "stave off recession", but fails to recognize the tax cuts for what they are: a deferred political reward to corporate allies who loyally supported last year’s cut in high-bracket personal taxes. Her inability (or willful refusal) to question the political motives of the world’s most powerful politician is disturbing.
It is maddening enough to live in this city, surrounded by commentators, lobbyists and would-be Presidential advisors, each with overt and covert agendas that rarely rise above short term self-interest. But to see the subtleties of those agendas completely missed, and then naively espoused, by journalists in Canada, is nothing short of embarrassing.