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American Politics


Observing the folks next door

Some Canadian reflections

by Garth Stevenson

Imagine the following scenario. The United States is bogged down in an inconclusive and unpopular war. The Republicans nominate an aging war hero as their presidential candidate. The Democrats select an eloquent and thoughtful man from Illinois who is loved by the liberal intelligentsia but seems to have some difficulty connecting with ordinary Americans. The Republican wins in a landslide.

The reference, of course, is to the first American election that I remember, now more than half a century past. I don’t remember it very well, since I was only nine years old, but the fact that the unlucky Democrat shared my family name did capture my attention. I won’t make any trite comment about history either repeating itself or not repeating itself, particularly as this is written in September. My point is merely that I have been interested in the United States for a very long time, and that makes me a fairly typical Canadian.

Banner Welcome: A sign welcomes returning soldiers at
Anchorage airport in Alaska. Taken on June 7, 2008,
months before Sarah Palin was introduced to the world as John McCain’s VP candidate at a rally in Dayton.

Canadian attitudes toward the United States have never been simple. Canada was literally founded on anti-Americanism, the one common bond between the American Loyalist refugees who came here after 1776, the Orangemen who arrived from northern Ireland a little later and the Catholic clergy in Quebec. General elections have been fought on anti-American platforms, although the last time this really worked was in 1911. Yet we have never been able to ignore the United States even if we wanted to, and our kind of anti-Americanism, unlike the more robust variety that exists in some European intellectual circles and in the Middle East, has almost always been mixed with fascination and even admiration. I find it significant that three of our best novels (Fifth Business by Robertson Davies, The Watch that Ends the Night by Hugh McLennan and St. Urbain’s Horseman by Mordecai Richler) are built around the lifelong relationship between a rather wimpy and introspective central character and a more aggressive, more adventurous and slightly older man whose colourful and exciting life is viewed from a distance. That is a perfect metaphor for the relationship between Canada and the United States.

My own life has been intertwined with the United States for as long as I can remember. The first books I recall were American: The Wizard of Oz and its many sequels and the wild animal stories of Thornton W. Burgess.

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About the Author

Garth Stevenson
Garth Stevenson is Professor of Political Science at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and a frequent contributor to Inroads.


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