Before everyone gets down on Barack Obama, it should be remembered that it was George W. Bush who gave the country two wars, a staggering deficit and debt, no health care or environmental plan, a disparaged worldwide reputation and an economy on the verge of collapse.
Given the inherited conditions, no president, no matter how skilled or brilliant, could have righted the American ship in the space of a year. Nor it will it be set right for years to come. The deficit is an inconceivable $1.6-trillion. Unemployment will remain high. His health care plan is in trouble. Troops will return from Iraq but roll into Afghanistan. The defence budget will remain at the insane level of almost a trillion a year. The Republican right, with its lynch-gang mentality, will block progressive change. The country will continue to lose ground to China.
The outlook is the worst America has had in memory. The era of Vietnam, Watergate, race riots and stagflation was destructive, but the American engine was far more dominant then, less indebted, facing less competition. There is today the added threat of terrorism. It’s been almost nine years since 9/11 and there have been no terrorist hits on American soil. But the paranoia remains. All it would take for the country to go into lockdown would be one small terrorist strike.
In Canada we look on somewhat blithely, not realizing that America’s crisis is our crisis. Our economy is doing better than theirs, but with 75 per cent of our trade dependent on the U.S. market, the old rule still applies – as America goes, so goes the great white north. We have done nowhere near enough to develop alternative markets. With the hollowing-out phenomenon, most of our national champions have been sold off. Our productivity is embarrassingly low. We are overly dependent on a natural resource economy with all its fluctuations.
Successive minority governments in Ottawa have had the effect of stifling the debate, turning everything into political theatre, the result being that there has been no long range planning.
The Conservative government deserves some credit for recently reaching an agreement which will prevent Buy American laws from impacting Canada heavily. But there is next to no debate among any of the parties on the decline of the United States and what the corresponding Canadian strategy, across a wide range of areas, should be.
The United States has been our lifeblood. As it falls into it worst decline in more than a century, you’d think there would be a greater sense of anxiety. Instead, what we have is complacency.
Lawrence Martin is a journalist and author of 10 books who writes about national affairs from Ottawa.