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THE SALON

The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - Rick Anderson, Anne McGrath and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.




Rick Anderson:

Am I the only one finding the second Obama inaugural a little underwhelming in terms of content and vision? Much rhetoric, some of it a little over-reaching ... now what?

 

Richard Mahoney:

First off, in the broadest sense, it is undoubtedly good news for the Ontario and national economy that there is political stability in the United States, that Obama has a mandate, that the "fiscal cliff/debt ceiling" issue has begun to be addressed. The US faces huge issues, some of them seemingly intractable, but they are little less intractable today than they were three months ago.

Rick's right to point to the heavy rhetoric in the speech. It was more visionary than policy oriented. But he did convincingly wrap his administration's focus on helping the middle class get by in the language and values of the US Constitution - positioning it as the fulfillment of the equality provisions of that agenda. That seemed powerful to me.


Anne McGrath:

Yes, I agree that the pomp and circumstance overwhelmed the content. However, in politics symbols are very powerful and so the trappings of the inauguration are almost as important as the inaugural speech. The choices of speakers, entertainers, the procession, the oath, etc. are all powerful signals of an administration that may be more aggressive and active than seen in the first term. The disappointment for me was that he didn't use the liberation of the second, and therefore last, term to state more clearly specific plans for the broader themes he addressed. He can afford to be more forceful now. Like Rick and Richard, I watched the movie "Lincoln" during the holiday break and he was very motivated by the freedom of being in his second term and the support he had at the ballot box.


Rick Anderson:

He may wish to be more aggressive than in his first term, but he doesn't have the horses. The president and the Republicans are both playing one-party politics in a divided government context (what we Canadians would call minority government). Doesn't work. What I am afraid of is that they just talk past each for four years, while there is little or no progress on important fiscal and economic issues, not to mention immigration and other things. 

 

Richard Mahoney:

On the big things that he must succeed on, the fiscal issues, entrenching Obamacare, immigration and guns, the most important for Canadians and Ontarians is obviously fiscal and economic issues. The US economy is in a modest rebound. More progress on the fiscal health of the government will give the market, investors and consumers increasing confidence and that is good news for an economy (ours) that has 80 per cent of its market there. On immigration, that doesn't really impact us. On guns, that does hit Ontario and Canada in two ways: first of all a safer America is by definition better for everyone. If he succeeds in limiting access to assault weapons and high capacity weapons magazines, that will mean fewer of these weapons make it across our border and may even convince our gun admiring Conservative government to do something on gun control, such as putting similar limits, or even stronger ones, in place. 

 

Anne McGrath:

Several research polls have shown that Obama is very popular in Canada and when you combine that interest, and support with the intertwined economies, what happens in the U.S. is very relevant to our politics. I'll admit that I love the pageantry and the crowds of the inauguration. Setting those aside what I took from his speech was the tone of confidence, determination, and pride. I hope that this will be the term where Obama is able to flex his muscles and make the kind of change that was so palpable but unfulfilled in his first term in office. 

 

Rick Anderson:

Me too, Anne. I have always thought of Obama as inspirational and full of promise (albeit big-spending, weak on the economy side of things). But unfulfilled and unfulfilling when push comes to shove, not able to translate rhetoric and promise into concrete action. (OK, except for Obamacare - but arguably, that poisoned the well for other things.) Reminds me a bit of the (premature) Pierre Trudeau eulogies written back in 1979 stating that he had accomplished little.

 

Richard Mahoney:

A fair criticism of Obama is that action and accomplishment do not match promise. An unfair criticism is that he poisons the well himself. The ridiculously over the top opposition to him by Republicans who seem to oppose his very right to be there, has poisoned the well more than anything. As Paul Begala and others observe, he will now need to be "ruthless" in the pursuit of his goals. Bipartisan work with the leadership of both parties does not seem a viable option: 

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/01/17/what-obama-should-say-on-monday.html

 

Anne McGrath:

It seems to me that the Republican opposition to Obama and the Democrats has backfired on them and done them more harm than good. The lack of coherent leadership in the Republican party has been damaging not only to their party but also to the national interest. There are legitimate and principled arguments to be made and I suspect that some smart folks in the party will be reconsidering their last decade.  I agree with Richard that bipartisanship in the current context does not seem viable but it must become so. 

 

Richard Mahoney:

President Obama also spoke in his speech of making progress on climate change - more than a tall order to get anything through Congress. That said, if he does get some action on that, that may also encourage the climate change denier that currently is Prime Minister of Canada to again attempt to at least match or mirror efforts south of the border. But I wouldn't hold my breath...

 

Rick Anderson:

Yes, best not to hold your breath...the path of that rhetorical road leads to things like not approving Keystone. No Canadian should hope for that. Another good example of rhetoric that can't (or shouldn't) be matched with action. 


Anne McGrath:

Even setting aside Keystone, if the U.S. takes concrete action on climate change that will put substantial pressure on our government to act and they seem to have boxed themselves in by so forcefully attacking cap-and-trade and equating it to a carbon tax. Could end up being a short-term attack that comes back to bite in the long term. If the U.S. pursues cap-and-trade, Canada has to make some serious decisions.

 

About The Salon (Anderson, Mcgrath, Mahoney)

Rick Anderson is former senior advisor to Reform Party Opposition leader Preston Manning; Anne McGrath was Chief of Staff to the late NDP leader Jack Layton; and Richard Mahoney, former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.
Posted date : January 23, 2013

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