Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

(Bill Grimshaw)
(Bill Grimshaw)

John Ibbitson

Americans argue to extremes, sure, but they also care deeply Add to ...

Provided it stays on schedule, the Senate will confirm Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court on Thursday.

All 60 senators in the Democratic caucus are expected to vote aye, and about half a dozen Republicans will go along. One, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, explained that Judge Sotomayor would not be his choice, but Barack Obama won the election, and should get to decide who goes on the bench.

Reason.

House Minority Leader John Boehner sent out a release, warning the Democrats' proposed health-care legislation will "start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia."

Lunacy.

One of the hardest things for a Canadian to grasp is how wild American political fights can get. Sure, there are days when politicians put aside partisanship to legislate in the best interests of the country. But such days are few.

In Canada, attacks can get nasty and personal. But Canadian political culture bends toward accommodation. Even when there are debates - on free trade, the Constitution, whether to join the war in Iraq, same-sex marriage - society usually coalesces around whatever gets decided.

U.S. society is far more polarized. Most Republican senators will vote against confirming Judge Sotomayor, in part because the National Rifle Association fears she may support gun-control laws.

Canada doesn't have an NRA, and there was little conservative opposition when Paul Martin chose to appoint Rosalie Abella to the Supreme Court, despite her long record of liberal and judicially active rulings. It would have been poor form.

But Americans love to argue, and much of what they yell at each other is crazy talk. Nothing in the health-care bill would encourage euthanasia, and Mr. Boehner knows it. But in American politics, it's fair game to just flat out lie. This can lead to scenes like the one in South Carolina, where an angry voter warned Congressman Bob Inglis at a town hall to "keep your government hands off my Medicare." Mr. Inglis, according to The New York Times, tried to explain that Medicare actually is run by the government, but the voter "was having none of it."

On the left, some Americans loathed George W. Bush so intensely, they believed his administration was behind the Sept. 11 attacks. On the opposite end are the birthers, who maintain Barack Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, making his presidency an illegal travesty. Hawaii officials repeatedly and wearily insist Mr. Obama has a Hawaii birth certificate, but there is no direct line between reason and the birthers. The unholy thing about the birther movement is that it is stoked by both the right and the left. Some conservative commentators have embraced the nonsense, knowing that it appeals to racist voters who simply won't accept an African-American president.

Liberal commentators (and that means you, MSNBC) egg them on, knowing sensible independents will flee from a party in which, according to a recent Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll, only 42 per cent of self-identifying Republicans believed Mr. Obama was born in the U.S. The rest thought he wasn't, or weren't sure.

Americans argue so furiously because there is much to argue about: the health-care and immigration systems are utterly dysfunctional, and the administration and Congress are racking up trillion-dollar deficits with no clear understanding of how to bring them down.

They argue because U.S. society is cleaved by region, race and class more deeply than in Canada. But they also argue because they care. They believe their federal government matters and they have strong opinions about how that government should act.

Canada always struggled to define itself as a nation, and in recent years appears to have given up that struggle, retreating into regional isolation. What Canadian federal politician has a clear sense of what this country should look like in the 21st century?

Politics in America is loud, rude, messy and sometimes deeply weird. But at least the U.S. matters to its citizens.

Do we keep quiet because of our famous politeness? Or is it that we just don't care?

Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

 

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories