I’m one of those Americans who just love Canada. I don’t have any big desire to go live in Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal, and don’t think our country is inferior, but do like to go up there when I can, and in particular, enjoy political discourse with Canadians, who, until recently at least, seemed to combine the best traditions of Europe and America, along with their legendary civility and openness to debate. Two Northern Exposures especially impressed me. One was a Q&A session with Deputy Cabinet Ministers (the people who actually run Canada’s national government) in 2000, when I had to explain and defend Al Gore’s policy agenda and how it would affect my country and theirs, in incredible detail. And the second, a year or two earlier, was a Future of the Left conference at Carlton University where an initially hostile audience constructively engaged, and partially accepted, my arguments for the progressive credentials of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.During all my visits to Canada in the late 1990s, I was told that Finance Minister Paul Martin was the real brains of the governing Liberal Party, and would prove that as Prime Minister when Jean Chretien decided to retire. And that is why the current agony of Martin and the Liberals is so sadly ironic.Chretien finally stepped down in 2003, and bequeathed to Martin not only leadership of the Liberals, but an endlessly unfolding series of ethics scandals, the most recent being AdScam, a sleazy tale of insider government contracts to provide illusory p.r. services in connection with efforts to tamp down Quebec separatism.Nobody has implicated Martin in this mess, but he’s the Prime Minister and Liberal leader, and like Gerald Ford after Watergate, he’s fighting an uphill battle to free his party and his leadership from a huge wave of public revulsion. Like Ford, he’s currently being mocked in the media as being a bit of a deer in the headlights. Martin is currently trying to forestall an immediate election. Despite general media assumptions that Liberals are doomed to disaster, maybe he, again like Gerald Ford, will be able to raise serious doubts about the opposition, which is in this case a Conservative Party that has moved well to the right in order to absorb the western-based Reform Party that kicked up a lot of ideological dust in the 90s. If Martin can’t pull a revival off, then Canada, like the United States, may experience the governing philosophy of a true, latter-day conservative movement, and ultimately decide that punishing themselves for Jean Chretien’s failings is an act of national masochism that should not stand,
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
This year’s big media narrative has been the confirmation saga of Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget. At New York I wrote about how over-heated the talk surrounding Tanden has become.
Okay, folks, this is getting ridiculous. When a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the nomination of Neera Tanden was postponed earlier this week, you would have thought it presented an existential threat to the Biden presidency. “Scrutiny over Tanden’s selection has continued to build as the story over her uneven reception on Capitol Hill stretched through the week,” said one Washington Post story. Politico Playbook suggested that if Tanden didn’t recover, the brouhaha “has the potential to be what Biden might call a BFD.” There’s been all sorts of unintentionally funny speculation about whether the White House is playing some sort of “three-dimensional chess” in its handling of the confirmation, disguising a nefarious plan B or C.
Perhaps it reflects the law of supply and demand, which requires the inflation of any bit of trouble for Biden into a crisis. After all, his Cabinet nominees have been approved by the Senate with a minimum of 56 votes; the second-lowest level of support was 64 votes. One nominee who was the subject of all sorts of initial shrieking, Tom Vilsack, was confirmed with 92 Senate votes. Meanwhile, Congress is on track to approve the largest package of legislation moved by any president since at least the Reagan budget of 1981, with a lot of the work on it being conducted quietly in both chambers. Maybe if the bill hits some sort of roadblock, or if Republican fury at HHS nominee Xavier Becerra (whose confirmation has predictably become the big fundraising and mobilization vehicle for the GOP’s very loud anti-abortion constituency) reaches a certain decibel level, Tanden can get out of the spotlight for a bit.
But what’s really unfair — and beyond that, surreal — is the extent to which this confirmation is being treated as more important than all the others combined, or indeed, as a make-or-break moment for a presidency that has barely begun. It’s not. If Tanden cannot get confirmed, the Biden administration won’t miss a beat, and I am reasonably sure she will still have a distinguished future in public affairs (though perhaps one without much of a social-media presence). And if she is confirmed, we’ll all forget about the brouhaha and begin focusing on how she does the job, which she is, by all accounts, qualified to perform.