Friday, October 3, 2008
A Tale of Two Borders
Like most Canadians, it is difficult to follow a homegrown election campaign in the same year as a simultaneous American one. Like most people with a remote control, I spent yesterday evening switching between the American Vice Presidential debate and our very own, and before the theatre of it became horribly dull, I made a few curious observations.
At one point, while flipping channels rapidly like a late night seeker of dull talk shows, competitive poker or sexy infomercials, I almost convinced myself that all seven participants were in the same room, although this was clearly impossible for more than geographic reasons. Canadians don't handle sloganeering well. Could you imagine Elizabeth May talking about "Joe Six Pack" or being a "soccer mom"? Or imagine Jack Layton or Stephen Harper prattling on in an evangelical tone like Joe Biden, endlessly self-serving while showing their artifically whitened teeth like a cornered zoo animal protecting his food? No, we do things differently here. Canada is a place for the ironic, where no one is caught up in a nationalistic vision so Canadian that it would allow them to sound corny or unselfconsciously vapid. Jack Layton sounded committed if slightly obnoxious, Stephane Dion was hesitant but earnest and professorial, and Gilles Duceppe was like the unwanted relative who married out of his faith and has to come to a family dinner during a religious holiday. The newcomer, Ms. May, was truly refreshing, asking pointed questions and seeming to like the political process she knows she is barely part of. Mr. Harper was to his credit, as consistently calculating as he always is - chiding the others about spending too much money like the head of a household wondering why his credit card is at its limit. The roundtable discussion last night was really more reminiscent of a heated chat among Political Science undergraduates at a university cafeteria, save for the absence of coffee stains, trendy clothing, muffin crumbs, and ideology.
Down South it's another story. The two Vice Presidential candidates delivered their sermons with enough zeal to inspire mass conversions or speaking in tongues, while curiously not saying anything substantial. "Where's the Beef", I thought, remembering a failed campaign slogan from the past. Joe Biden gnashed his teeth to avoid looking like an intellectual bully, surpressing every attempt to appear condescending towards his opponent. For her part, Sarah Palin, head unencumbered of any silly confusing things like ideas, stuck to her pronounciation of world leader's names brilliantly, casting the odd "Would ya do me?" wink at an audience she was aiming to appeal to or bring around to the GOP. While both surely benefitted from the exposure - the Democrat avoiding hyberbole and the Republican avoiding looking horribly dumb, it served more to reassure convinced voters that somebody will do something sometime somewhere, and not to worry. The undecided voter likely went to bed still confused, wondering why nothing remotely ressembling a political platform was revealed in either case. At least both countries have something in common.