Bilingualism and Mulcair

Here are two recent articles about Canadian politics I wrote for two different clients:

Bilingualism is the demand of Canada’s linguistic aristocracy,” for the National Post, in which I reflect on what my time in Japan taught me about how languages are learned or not-learned.

Mulcair’s radical promise,” for Loonie Politics, in which I consider the consequences of the fact that the NDP is the only party that still favors using the “coalition government” trick to prevent Harper from serving another term.

I am also briefly quoted in this Foreign Policy article about US-Canada differences, as manifested by the GOP debate.

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The GOP debates

I actually watched both, even though that entailed ignoring the Canadian prime ministerial debate scheduled simultaneously with the “top tier” one.

What was most striking was how good everyone was. Despite the tired caricature of the GOP field as a “clown car” packed with lunatics, with at most two exceptions (Trump and Dr. Carson), all 17 of the candidates presented as competent, qualified, articulate, and thoughtful. It is an amazingly strong field. I assume a lot of these people are going to run again in 2020 simply because there are basically no Republicans of national stature or fame who aren’t running now.

There are theories that our brains can only conceptualize so many friends; I think the same is probably true of political candidates. It is extraordinarily difficult to form useful opinions and insights on over a dozen politicians of rather narrow ideological deviation, so the pressure is strong to just relapse into familiar storylines and simply reconsider the the merits or flaws of those whom you have pre-existing opinions.

Huckabee was said by some to have had a good night for instance, but since I grew numb to his shtick long ago his performance didn’t move me. I know he’s articulate and witty and forceful in a way that makes for good retail politics, but he also suffers the classic populist’s flaw of lacking substantial second-liners to follow the clever one-liners. Santorum was neither impressive nor unimpressive, I just think the world has so utterly tired of him he barely registers at all. Perry has clearly been heavily coached since last time, and has some Dubya-esque charms that now seem oddly nostalgic, but given how infamously he flopped in 2012 it’s probably too late.

Rand Paul is a confused anachronism. He tries to win the isolationist vote while simultaneously conceding the isolationist moment has passed. What’s left is a candidate as shrill and pugilistic as his father but without the ideological consistency. It’s not compelling.

Trump, ditto. Whether he exceeded low expectations or not, he was identifiably himself. People project all sorts of things onto him, but at his core he’s just a rude man utterly convinced of his own brilliance. Either you go for that sort of thing or you don’t.

Dr. Carson has a sweet and pleasant (even Reaganesque) personality but he’s not qualified to be a head of state. He did nothing last night to demonstrate otherwise.

The newcomers, your Kasich, your Gilmores, got lost in the weeds of limited attention spans.

Many pundits felt Carly Fiorina was the breakout star of the earlier, “bottom tier” debate, but I wonder whether voters are too fatigued at this point to go through the whole process of “getting to know” the entire biography and baggage of some slightly intriguing new face when there’s already so much of that to sort through as it is.

In that sense, I’d posit it was the middle tier, those candidates who are nearly equal parts knowns and unknowns, who had the most actually at stake, since their inclusion offered the potential to solidify public perceptions that have yet to fully harden.

On that front, I found Walker, Bush, Christie, Jindal, and Rubio to be exceedingly plain, though Walker’s plainness was more vivid than most, given his superstar reputation. Bush comes off as completely identical to Mitt Romney in style and substance, which I suppose suits him just fine. But if his slow-and-steady campaign capsizes for some reason you can easily imagine one of the other four generics filling the void.

Rubio, who the press also seems to be impressed with, demonstrated sophisticated calculating in some answers. When confronted with a quote implying he favored abortion in cases of rape or insest, he simply replied “I never said that,” which is just weasely enough to both win hardcore pro-lifers in the primary and offer plausible deniability to moderates during the general.

Cruz is the one candidate I have a hard time pigeon-holing. I was taken some time ago by this very good essay by Andrew Ferguson that argues Cruz is enormously overrated, the product of a quiet conspiracy between the liberal press and Cruz himself to inflate him into a much more consequential figure than he actually is. He’s an intelligent man who has chosen to use his intelligence to market himself as a radical right-winger who everyone hates. I am not sure this is a wise way to win a popularity contest.

Lindsey Graham, it has been said, only entered this contest to make a point about how we don’t fear the Middle East nearly enough and he delivered it with all the passion of a cop informing the next of kin. His performance was more avant garde than anything Trump did.

They were interesting debates but I’m not sure we learned much.

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Understanding Canada’s election

Campaign season is here once again! Here’s a video tutorial.

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The food of the future! But is it any good?

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The wrong side of Hillary

The wrong side of Hillary

Bad things tend to happen to those who oppose the Clintons.

It’s now known that many of the vilest slurs hurled against Barack Obama during his first presidential run — including crazed allegations he was born in Kenya or a closet Muslim who secretly wore weird Muslim clothes — had their origins in the Hillary 2008 campaign. Neither Senator Clinton nor her immediate proxies cast such aspersions directly, of course — that would be unbecoming of a leader of such imperious airs. No, the rumors began, as rumors often do, via the chain letters, blog comments, and idle gossip of free-agent “supporters,” who were just innocuously repeating second-hand truths as they understood them. The technique was what political scientists call the “whisper campaign;” nasty underground innuendo against a candidate that mysteriously emerges at precisely the time her opponent needs it most.

Today Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who promises to bring Scandinavian-style “democratic socialism” to America, seeks to replay the role of 2008 Obama and offer a more aggressively “left” alternative to Hillary Clinton, reputed centrist. But leftism is a vast bundle of priorities, and few politicians can effectively embody them all. Because Sanders’ focus has always been primarily economic — his crowd-pleasing speeches mostly center around corporate greed and income inequality — he’s left himself vulnerable on the front becoming steadily more dominant in America’s left-wing conversation — social justice and identity group sensitivity.

On July 18 Senator Sanders was interrupted during a speech by self-appointed representatives of the Black Lives Matter set, and his irritated, slightly befuddled reaction — which included tone-deaf bragging about spending “50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and dignity” — exposed  unfamiliarity with the rituals of humble privilege-checking now expected of white progressives. Columns in progressive outlets were  written about his campaign’s “race problem,” and memes began to sprout about his suspiciously “all-white” audiences and supporters. And didn’t he come from Vermont, the whitest state in the country?

Similar suspicions have been conspicuously whipped up over Sander’s supposed closet life as a “gun nut,” in the words of one Slate columnist, a reputation that helps solidify his caricature as a hickish creature from the backwoods of lily-white New England. Sanders, of course, can barely even be called a gun moderate by any standard beyond the far left’s; there are numerous rural-state Democrats to his right on this issue, and he’s received a D- from the NRA and an F from Gun Owners of America for consistently backing the vast majority of firearm control bills brought before Congress. Yet what Sanders calls the “mythology” of his Second Amendment record has managed to become a settled piece of online conventional wisdom just the same.

Other slurs have been darker still. Mother Jones somehow stumbled across a cringeworthy 43-year old essay Sanders wrote in his hippie days in which he mused about what he assumed were typical female sexual fantasies (“being raped by 3 men simultaneously”) in order to make some dated and obscure point about gender relations. This, said his enemies, was proof the old geezer was on the wrong side of “Rape Culture.” Then there was the truly bizarre rumor that the Jewish senator was some manner of secret Israeli double-agent, an allegation infamously flouted on NPR by a host who claimed to just be repeating something she’d heard online.

Hillary has reason to fear Sanders; initially assumed to be little more than a Kucinich-like fringe figure providing token opposition to her coronation, his poll numbers have now risen to the point where victories in a couple of early primary states seem plausible, if not likely. As Clinton’s press becomes near-uniformly negative thanks to ongoing troubles with her ominously missing emails, which beg questions of credibility on everything from the business ethics of her family’s charity to Benghazi to who is or isn’t in her inner court of advisors, the case for a “cleaner” Democratic candidate in 2016 gets ever stronger.

What Bernie (and for that matter, O’Malley, Chaffee, or Biden) will never have, however, is an appeal that can be couched in the trendy narratives of identity group victimization and triumph. Hillary’s importance as a glass-ceiling breaker must never be forgotten, and if that requires a nasty underground campaign pushing slanderous stereotypes of of her white male opponents, so be it.

For want of the First Woman President, much can be lost.

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