By Stephen Gowans
Obamamania was on full display Thursday in Canada’s capital, as the new US president made his first foreign visit – a six hour stop to wintry Ottawa, to exchange bromides with Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper.
When Obama stepped off Air Force One at Ottawa’s snow-swept airport he immediately thanked the Canadians who had worked to get him elected. That Canadians would volunteer their time and money to help the Obama campaign in an election they could not vote in reveals how wide Obama’s popularity is in Canada. It also reveals that Canadians recognize that the world’s longest undefended border does not insulate them from decisions approved in Washington. They do not, therefore, look upon US politics with indifference.
Given Canadians’ obsessive interest in the political affairs of their closest neighbor, and their sense that Obama represents a welcome relief from the dark and frightening night of the Bush presidency, it is not so outlandish to suggest that Obamamania may be more fervent in Canada than it is in many parts of the United States.
On the eve of Obama’s visit, Canadian newspapers vied to outdo each other in the race to provide their readers with essential information about the 44th president of the United States. “Why is Obama so sexy?” they asked. “Find out how Obama stays in shape.” And “Obama’s Canadian connection. His sister lives in Burlington, Ontario!”
Nothing about Obama was overlooked, except what mattered most — his decisions.
Friday’s headline in The Ottawa Citizen provided an especially embarrassing glimpse of how infatuated Canadians have become with Bush’s successor, and how obsessed they are (or at least their media are) with the minutia of the Obama presidency, and how ignorant they are of its substance.
“Six hours that B-rocked Ottawa.
“A few of us stood and watched. A lot of us got stuck in traffic. We twittered. We fawned. We groaned. We spent millions. He flew into Ottawa. He met with Stephen Harper. He left Parliament Hill. He bought a Beaver Tail.”
See Obama arrive. He arrives good. See Obama’s limousine. It is big. Obama loves Canada. Hurray for Obama. Long live Obama. He has a nice smile.
Obamamania ought to be written up as new chapter in Charles McKay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, to nestle between chapters on the South Sea Bubble and Tulipomania.
And yes, Obamamania can be aptly described as mass insanity, for it is based on delusion and estrangement from reality. Canadians, like many others in the world, believe that Obama is different from George Bush. To be sure, he is. He’s younger, smarter, friendlier, fitter, more articulate, cuddlier and has more melanin. But Canadians, like everyone else, have been bamboozled into believing that US policy under a younger, smarter, friendlier, fitter, more articulate, cuddlier and more melanin-replete Obama, as president, will be different than it was under a dumber, darker, flabbier, less articulate, repellent and melanin-scarce Bush, as president.
A colleague of mine was at first skeptical, then shocked, to discover that Obama is dispatching more troops to Afghanistan. It seems the label “anti-war” candidate kept many from even a cursory examination of Obama’s policy statements during the presidential campaign – and from keeping tabs on what he’s been up to since. Why pay attention to policy statements and cabinet appointments and broken promises (referred to in Friday’s New York Times not as broken promises but as “recalibrations”) when there are more important matters to attend to – like Obama’s shoe size, where he spent his 2004 vacation, and his wife’s “refreshing” style.
Bruce Cockburn, a Canadian signer-songwriter, wrote a song many years ago which contained what I always thought to be a cautionary line meant for his compatriots about the behemoth that lies to their south.
“Let us not be beguiled,
By a nation so wretched,
With a handshake so mild.”
Iraqis, Afghans, Vietnamese, Koreans, Cubans and others would be mystified. Handshake? What handshake? But Canadians, more often than not accomplices in US aggressions against Third World peoples, are accustomed to mild handshakes and not the fist the unfortunates who sit on oceans of oil and prized geo-strategic positions and who get in the way of US corporate profit-making have been met with….and under presidents who wore pleasant smiles and were young and fit and sexy too.
Obama: the wretched nation’s latest version of the mild handshake.