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Jeffrey Simpson: America's clipped talons

Jeffrey Simpson

Brigitte Bouvier/The Globe and Mail

"This is not an eagle with spread wings but one with clipped talons, unaccustomed to this unhappy state of affairs," national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson says in Wednesday's column. "A weakened America is arguably more difficult ... to deal with than a strong one."

Mr. Simpson took reader questions Wednesday about Canada-U.S. relations and Ottawa's efforts to negotiate more favourable trade and security terms. Edited excerpts follow, or click below to follow the discussion as it took place.

[ Click here to read the full discussion on a mobile device]

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Moderator: Jeffrey, some Canadians might have assumed that hard times in the United States would create more favourable terms for the country's top trading partner, but this doesn't necessarily seem to be the case. Has America's weakness in any way strengthened Canada's hand?

Jeffrey Simpson: Absolutely not; a weak economy brings higher domestic unemployment that, in turn, leads to pressure to protect domestic jobs from competition, be it from Canada, China or wherever.

yotung: South of the border I see a terrible noise of ideology that seems to make it impossible for most Americans to look at their country objectively, to separate reality from partisan patriotism. Like Rome before them, will the entrenched expectation of bread and circuses at home keep the US from doing what is necessary to stay on top as a world economic leader?

Jeffrey Simpson: I'll seize your observation to make one only tangentially related to yours. You asked about Americans' inability to see their own problems staright and to be diverted into jingoism and patriotism and tub-thumping. I am concerned that we are heading in that direction in Canada. What is this business about the War of 1812 all about if not patriotic shenangians and tub-thumping? What should happen is the use of the 200th anniversary not to puff up our patriotism but to commemorate jointly with the U.S. and Britain 200 years of peace.

TD: Do you see the possibility of a political alignment of president and Congress which would at least get the country out of its present political deadlock and allow it to address its urgent economic problems?

Jeffrey Simpson: I do not. Inside the political world, there is no hint of a Grand Bargain between the two parties, at least not until after the next presidential election, at which time there will be an election for all the House and one-third of the Senate. At this stage, it appears that the Republicans will gain seats in both bodies, so that even if Mr. Obama were to be re-elected, the highest institutions of the U.S. government would be politically divided as well as institutionally divided.

Yasur: What can the Obama administration do to "sidestep" congressional approval for its border measures with Canada, as you put it?

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Jeffrey Simpson: The administration is changed with implementing the laws of Congress and has many regulatory and administrative powers to do so. These include border control -- customs and immigration -- national security, international transportation etc. So the U.S. government has considerable powers. If it were to need additional money, it would need congressional appropriations.

Jolene: Academics Stephen Clarkson and Matto Mildenberger wrote in The Globe last week that Canada (with Mexico) makes large contributions to the American economy while gaining little influence in Washington. Do you agree with this assessment?

Jeffrey Simpson: Influence is something that is easy to state but difficult to measure, especially in a place called Washington that is a piece of geography but is really shorthand for a swirling mass of interests, lobbies, perspectives, institutions and messages that constitute the varied, diverse and divided institutions what is called the Government of the United States. Rather than parse whether Canada (or Mexico) has influence in this bonfire of the lobbies, Canada has no choice but to roll up its sleeves and pitch in, hoping for the best but most certainly not expecting that our trade automatically gives us influence. A hearing maybe; influence hardly.

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