There was something familiar I couldn’t place about Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, something almost nostalgic. I listened to it like a tune I used to know but had nearly forgotten.
The U.S. President was describing a country where higher taxes pay for better public services. A country I might once have called “Canada.”
Many of the ideas Mr. Obama put forward are left of where we are now politically in Canada. How much of it he will achieve is yet to be seen, but the vision he laid out for the United States was more Canadian than Canada is today. He might as well have been delivering it in French and English, and then French again, while sewing a Canadian flag on his backpack.
There were moments in which Mr. Obama was so Canadian-not-American that it was almost as if he wasn’t talking about religion in public but was instead singing the McGarrigle sisters: “For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense.
“We can choose to believe that superstorm Sandy and the most severe drought in decades and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late,” he said in the context of discussing the need to regulate carbon emissions, any mention of which is currently treated as tantamount to an act of treason in this country.
Perhaps the most striking part of Mr. Obama’s address was his plan to make quality preschool available to all four-year-olds – because, he explained, studies show that the benefits of that kind of early care reverberate throughout a child’s entire education, yet even middle-class parents often cannot afford the cost.
“Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime,” he said, as Canadian as a butter tart at a July 1 block party.
Essentially he was laying out a plan reminiscent of a not-dissimilar vision for an extended educational system once organized here in Canada – the one Stephen Harper crushed when he cancelled the federal-provincial daycare agreements developed by Paul Martin’s Liberals. Now, the country closest to us is cribbing it, plus much of our identity.
It has been a while coming, but the State of the Union Address sealed it; America’s now officially the Single White Female of nations. And, America being America, I can’t help thinking they’re going to turn out to be so much better at being Canada than us.
If there’s ever a Being-Canada Olympics, America will win the bronze medal and then be so extraordinarily jubilant about the win that it will be bumped up to the gold. Because of course that’s how the Being-Canada Olympics will work. The Americans will figure that out quickly and train their children to be excessively grateful for their bronze-medal wins from a very young age, thus winning them all the golds. Soon they’ll rename the gold the Personal Best Medal, so that no one’s feelings get hurt, because they know how to compete.
We’re doomed to fail at our own nationality. Americans will start waiting for other people to applaud before they applaud. They will not get irrationally indignant about alleged affronts to their constitution or their flag, but only about art they think they could have painted. They’ll finally stop saying “soda.” And yet, because I’m clinging to what vestiges of my Canadian identity the usurpers from the south have left me, I’ll just politely accept that Americans make better Canadians than us.
Oh yes, I think we all should: It’s only through our sheer bloody-minded politeness about Americans being better Canadians than us that we’ll ultimately win being Canadian back.
This will make America unhappy. Confronted by our niceness, the once triumphant Canadian-Americans will put down the Jane Urquhart novels they are dutifully reading or stop mumbling their way through the French portion of the national anthem.
They’ll look at us sadly. And what we must do then is to look straight back at them and all say “sorry” repeatedly, thus securing our position as the true Canadians for all time.