Pubdate: Thu, 08 Nov 2012
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2012 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Michael Den Tandt


This is the intriguing subtext - or maybe dominant theme - of Tuesday 
night's decisive Electoral College victory by incumbent and now, more 
than ever, history-making U.S. President Barack Obama: The U.S. is 
becoming, well, Canadian.

That will seem like a wild exaggeration to some. But consider. The 
campaign itself was as nasty and divisive as always on the 
advertising side, and at street level. But at the presidential level, 
there was courtesy. Mitt Romney-haters will disagree, but at no time 
in the campaign, certainly not in public, did Romney bare his fangs 
in anything like a Rush Limbaugh-style display of rage. He was 
aggressive but respectful. More to the point, his policy positions - 
during the campaign at least - were centrist. But it was too little 
centrism, too late.

Romney lost by a wide margin in the Electoral College, 303 to 206. 
The popular vote, no surprise, was almost evenly split, with Obama 
winning narrowly. On the face of it, the outcome could have been 
quite different. But if you drill into results in the swing states, 
in particular north eastern rust-belt jurisdictions such as 
Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, it's clear that 
Romney never really had a chance.

These states are populated mainly by white, working-class folk who've 
been hit hard by the downturn in manufacturing. They should have been 
disaffected with Obama and many were, but not enough. Blue collar 
hero Bruce Springsteen, a huge Obama fan, seems closer to capturing 
the new ethos than, say, honky-tonk man and GOP favourite Hank Williams Jr.

In Florida, in 2000 the final arbiter, the results were more 
striking. Romney absolutely needed populous Florida, with its 29 
Electoral College votes, to counter California's 55, always certain 
to go Democrat. He fully expected to win Florida. But in the populous 
counties of the southeast coast, Romney struck out resoundingly. Not 
coincidentally, South Florida has a large Hispanic population. The 
GOP, with its Tea Party-driven hostility to immigration, failed 
utterly to bring this group onside. Indeed, it didn't particularly 
try, a fatal mistake.

This is a historic, demographics-driven shift, captured - ironically 
- - by GOP backer Clint Eastwood in his 2008 film, Grand Torino. In the 
movie, Eastwood plays a salt-of-the-earth white Republican of 
Eisenhower vintage, beset by Asian, Hispanic and black neighbours. 
His car, the mythical Grand Torino, is a metaphor for and homage to 
the old America - white, blue collar, Christian, conservative and 
able to build things that last forever - that's disappearing. The 
movie may as well have been crafted as a prelude to this election.

But it's the state-by-state propositions, non-presidential ballot 
items, that truly jump out. In Michigan, voters turned thumbs-down in 
overwhelming numbers to billionaire Matty Moroun's cockeyed scheme to 
stop a new bridge being built between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit. 
That may not be explicitly a vote for Canada, but it's certainly not 
isolationism or protectionism.

In Maryland, Maine, Washington state and Colorado, Canadianness is 
spreading like a rash. The first three jurisdictions approved 
same-sex marriage by plebiscite - the first time this has ever 
happened. The latter two legalized recreational marijuana. These 
outcomes have national import. As The Associated Press's David Crary 
points out, the U.S. Justice Department must now determine how to 
deal with legalized pot, which it still considers illegal, and the 
Supreme Court will be expected to consider new state precedents in 
future hearings on same-sex marriage.

Ah, I hear you say - but Canada hasn't legalized pot. In fact, the 
Harper government moved in the opposite direction with omnibus crime 
bill C-10, imposing harsh new sentences for growers of as few as six 
plants. That may be so, but as Americans have once again shown, 
popular sentiment leads. The Harper government has gone all Grand 
Torino on crime, because it's one area where it can court social 
conservatives in its base without sparking a fierce backlash among 
progressives. But that doesn't make the marijuana measures popular: 
Indeed C-10 was an omnibus bill for that very reason, lumping the 
good - tougher penalties for sex crimes against children - with the 
dumb. The best argument against decriminalization was always made by 
police: easing restrictions here would cause too jarring a disruption 
at the border given U.S. aversion to pot. If that aversion wanes, the 
goalposts move.

For Canadian economic conservatives, this election may be a 
disappointment. But for social progressives on both sides of the 
border it's good news - and further evidence that a confident, 
diverse and tolerant Canada has the capacity to lead trends in the 
North American relationship, as well as follow.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom