Saturday, August 27, 2005

Looking for America

It seems not that long ago that I was one of tens of thousand of Torontonians, rhythmically throwing our fists in the air with Bruce Springsteen as we shouted "Born in the USA, I was.... Born in the USA," out in the open air at the old CNE Grandstand. We were Canadians, of course, and always will be, but on those two, magical summer nights twenty years ago this weekend, borders were nowhere near our minds.

"We liked the same music, we liked the same bands, we liked the same clothes..."
In 1988, I took my first long road trip through the American Heartland, on drought-stained highways that wound through the Midwest cornfields to Tennessee and beyond.

In Memphis, there was Graceland, of course, and Beale Street where the avenue was actually equipped with electrical outlets, so the blues players could plug in their amps outdoors.

And onward.

The Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville.
Little Rock (where I almost met Governor Bill Clinton). Bourbon Street, the Grassy Knoll, the Canadarm at NASA in Houston. I even saw a taping of the PTL Club - after Jim and Tammy Bakker's fall - in Charlotte, because it was there and so was I.

Northbound. The White House, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial. Side trip to Asbury Park, N.J. And then, Wall Street. Times Square. The Statue of Liberty. Broadway, Madison Square Gardens. The Lincoln Tunnel.

The World Trade Centre.

These places were American icons. But they were, in some not-so-remote ways, ours too. They couldn't help but be.

I've had many feelings about what has happened in America since September 11 (which, as an aside, is also my birthday - I turned on CNN that morning to the shocking sight of the first tower burning, just as the unknowing birthday calls were beginning).

I've generally been somewhat centre-liberal, politically speaking, so I probably would always have had a visceral reaction against the deceptive rationales for the War in Iraq, the excesses of the Schiavo fiasco, the rise of the neocons and theocons, and the distorted, wedge politics of Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly.

While I will always take intellectual issue with those sorts of right wing ideologues, I worry much more deeply that the growing estrangement between Canadian and American values is taking us toward the sunset of our crucial continental friendship with the USA.

Aside from the politics, it is kind of sad. I just don't recognize our old friend any more.

In Ambulance Blues, an obscure Neil Young dirge about the fabled Riverboat Cafe on Yorkville, North Toronto Collegiate's most famous musical alumnus tells us,

"There ain't nothin' like a friend
who can tell you you're just pissing in the wind."
(Sometimes I think I know what that line means).

Well, America, you are just pissing in the wind. And you're getting a tiny bit wet.

I have long believed that America's current eccentricities stem from a generalized, national post-traumatic stress reaction to 9-11.

I think the cloud, perhaps, may be finally beginning to lift.

Recent polls show President Bush's approval ratings falling as low as 36%. Perhaps this may signify a return to greater American moderation before the 2006 mid-term elections - Republicans like to win more than they like ideology.

Canadian political leaders, though, are starting to take this all quite seriously.

Still, I'm thinking Lloyd Axworthy's recent Toronto Star column, previously cited by blogger Cathie from Canada, goes a a bit too far.

Mr. Axworthy, Canada's former Foreign Affairs Minister, really pulls no punches:

"...The reality is that we are dealing with an American political system currently steeped in the ideology of "empire..." While most Canadians responded with dismay to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, few could quite grasp that the same cavalier, imperial attitudes exemplified in Washington's rejection of various agreements on disarmament, its fierce opposition to the International Criminal Court, its indifference to climate-change warnings, and its undermining of the U.N. would prevail in our continental relationship as well...

Let's face it: This is a painful and uncertain time in our relations with the United States... It's time for new policies and tough action to shift our trade and security strategies away from a preoccupation with continental matters to a more global footing....

Let's begin by seriously considering an end to NAFTA...
The emergence of new economic powers like China, India, Brazil and South Africa provides markets hungry for the resources and know-how that Canada possesses. Our NAFTA connection impedes our ability to take advantage of this potential. It's time to redefine this historic relationship....

Mr. Axworthy is a highly respected, former Canadian cabinet minister who has a lengthy and entirely dignified record. That he is advocating this radical policy direction is newsworthy, in and of itself.

Hopefully, we haven't come to this point, yet. This is a critical continental relationship. It can be, should be, and in my view, must be repaired.

If all else fails, 2008 isn't that long from now....

- Garry J. Wise

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DrJingles said...


Your last line says it all..
this isn't really a war of
Canada vs US....and David vs Goliath.
This is really more a war of
the currently powerful american
right...vs...the currently powerful moderate Canadian left.
The right is so far right these days...that its right up there with calling toronto central canada.
There are many disenfranchised Americans who feel manipulated south of the border that 2008 barring more unfair and unsquare or close call politics might change the atmosphere again.
I doubt this would still be the case with John Kerry or his successor in power.
I could see the US retaliation rhetoric in play already thanks to statements made by current ambassador wilson..or whoever he is.
They were the statements of a thug.
but....say...we keep our own other resources...
say the current US administration takes the stand of retaliation and continues to alienate most of the rest of the world including half their disenfranchised cititzens..
maybe the answer is..
Lets take all the Moderates and Liberals into the bussom of Canada...and happily send all our conservatives down to the US...
but we somehow need a nice affiliation with some warm tropical place down in the carribean or south we can holiday...but..
if we do that..
I see two outcomes.
Either...we can stand tough...
and have a eutopian liberal society up here...and a utopian conservative society down there...
and all live in peace..
or ...
maybe If we fill the US with conservatives...and only have a bunch of liberals up here..and then don't give them all the resources at what they want..
the conservatives will likely NUKE us and all our MAD COWS...

this from Drjingles
at Surf internet cafe in beautifaul downtown Gravenhurst

Anonymous said...

Hey Gary, I'm a good friend of Lawrie's and have almost met you a few times.

I've followed the Iraq war very carefully and never have I discerned anything close to "deceptive rationale."

And in fact, I am deeply ashamed for Canada in being on the wrong side of the War on Terror.

President George Bush is a hero of mine, for one because he is such a strait shootin' honest guy.

Also, I am a regular Bill O'Reilly watcher, and he is a particularly reasonable guy, who goes out of his way to expose truth.

And, as you can imagine, I deeply disagree with plenty of the rest of what you said including your conclusions.

I look forward to one day meeting you and having a pretty interesting policital discussion!

Mr. Anonymous

Peter Kovachev said...

Hi Garry,

I always love reading what you write…even when you’re not right…or to the right.

Speaking of dirges, it seems to me that your reflections are a dirge for the decline of the "centre-left liberal" movement you feel a need to be loyal to for old time's sake. Something akin to the need of people of our generation to identify with the old musical Greats, even though they have grown stale as our times are a-changin'...if you'll forgive my trite appropriation of the lyrics of another musical Great. But it's one thing to feel nostalgia for the Greats, another for the lost liberals. The former makes us a tad old-fashioned, the latter leads us into a world of dysfunctional illusions.

Not that I don't sympathize with your plight. Your movement has left you and many other principled die-hards rudder-less. Both the paleo-conservatives and the liberals of today have become autocratic and bloated navel-gazing have-beens who are losing their grip on academia, the media and mass education with the grace and elegance of a drunk trying to hold on to his drink while being turfed out of his watering hole. Their “critiques” of the right, comprising essentially of desperate accusations of stupidity or psychopathology (which I see that you have absent-mindedly echoed) are as effective as shouting and spitting at the bar’s closed door. Or pissing into the wind, for that matter.

I also don’t envy the current new crop you have to try to coexist with. But, uh-uh, for that you can’t blame us nasty neo-cons. It’s not our fault, for example, that the loudest anti-war protesters of today are certifiable freaks…or mothballed clowns like Jane Fonda and her Crisco oil bus tour. Neither is it our fault that the most prominent young bloods, the bright new stars of liberalism and other varieties of leftist ideologies are turning out to be rabid little hitlerjugend types in cool threads who’ve made their bed with the world’s vilest neo-fascists, like the Ba’athists, the jihadists, the Wah’habis, the “palestinianists” and the Holocaust-deniers. And since you brought up the psychological model of political analysis with the reference to “post-traumatic stress reaction,” I wonder what your take is on the curious phenomenon of mainstream feminist, gay and leftist groups declaring their solidarity with folks who treat their mothers and sisters worse than we treat our stray dogs, who castrate homosexuals and who stone atheists to death.

I’m so glad you brought in Canadian content to your blog; we can now both pass CRTC guidelines. But your disinterment of old Lloyd Axworthy, a paleo-Liberal long overdue for the pasture, is a bit of a surprise. You must be the last Canadian who reads anything by Lloyd…or The Toronto Star for that matter. Guess what Lloyd, the American political system is not “steeped in the ideology of ‘empire’”…the U.S. actually is an empire, the most powerful, successful and humane one the world has known. Only now is it realizing that it is an empire in all but a name and that it needs to think and behave like one for everyone’s sake. As for the “most Canadians” bit, Lloyd, Liberal party ideology no longer represents most Canadians. Neither does the corrupt and declining U.N. with its loopy pet projects. And sure, Lloyd, let’s give the finger to our biggest trading partner, let’s throw ourselves to the tender mercies of an “international” organization largely composed of tyrannical pauper fiefdoms and let’s go on a more “global footing,” perhaps by pinning our economic future on your glowing examples; the psychotic and debt-ridden ne’er-do-wells of Latin America, the flash-in-the pan communist/capitalist China, or the rapidly going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket South Africa. Fortunately, this is as likely to happen as Justin Trudeau ever filling his pappy’s big shoes.

But lest you think I disagree with everything you’ve written, I whole-heartedly back your preferred candidate for the U.S. presidency in 2008, “hinted” at through that rickety Photoshop pastiche you linked to (,1020,403195,00.jpg). A declining old rocker doing his best to look cool and current, proudly backing a wife-made millionaire whose cleverest political move was to sully the honour of his fellow veterans. Thanks to that glimpse of a possible future campaign, I can now sleep better!

Cheers, old friend, and let's do finally get together for a coffee. Forgive me if I prefer a cup by Timmy's over one of yours; I'd like to catch a wink between now and Rosh Hashanah.


Peter Kovachev

Garry J. Wise, Wise Law Office, Toronto said...


I am glad to see you took the time to publicly expose your lighter side.

As this blog is, if nothing else, a forum for free exchange if ideas and views, I welcome your input, if only for the sheer comedic value of your invariable bombasticity.

Your comments, however, with respect to the quality of my coffee cannot and will not be taken sitting down.

Nonetheless, I will be pleased to shoot down your cumbersome and delusional clap-trap, as is the custom, over Timothy's inferior brew at a time of your choosing.