Live Well, Do Good

Campaigns of Contrast

Brandon Sun, September 20, 2008 - David McConkey

How delicious to have elections going on in the U.S. and Canada at the same time! A great time to compare and contrast not only electoral processes, but also societies and futures.

The obvious comparison, of course, is that the U.S. election is much more interesting than ours.

Right from the get-go, they have had colourful candidates like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, and, lately, Sarah Palin. They are facing and discussing bigger and more controversial, issues than our candidates: the war in Iraq, whether the U.S. should have a national health care program, abortion. Their election could be nail-bitingly close and could bring about dramatic change.

Our election, on the other hand, is more boring, more conservative, more Canadian. (Not necessarily a bad thing!)
Even their debates are different, including a wider variety of formats. Their voters get some debates on YouTube, which attract the largest number of people under the age of 30.

We have to watch boring TV debates where we endure five party leaders, including Gilles Duceppe whose party we can’t even vote for. A problem this year: the Canadian TV networks have scheduled one of our debates for the same evening as the U.S. vice-presidential debate.

I personally enjoyed the recent U.S. forum on religion and values where Obama and McCain individually discussed their views with a pastor host. I didn’t miss the usual shouting, theatrics, and interrupting. It was a great way to compare the thoughtful, nuanced answers of Obama to the simple, direct answers of McCain.

Beyond the elections, we Canadians are surprisingly different from Americans. Public opinion polls and a recent comprehensive survey in Maclean’s magazine paint a vivid picture of two quite distinct societies.

I was astonished to read that Americans actually have become less wealthy than Canadians. Median family net worth is now one-quarter lower in the U.S. than in Canada. And, since those numbers are from before the American subprime mortgage crisis, the difference likely is even greater today.

Some stereotypes turn out to be quite accurate. Many Americans really are gun-toting, church-going folks who are wary of science and opposed to new ideas like gay or common-law marriage.

Americans are three times as likely as Canadians to own a gun and twice as likely to say that religion is very important to them.

Pollster Angus Reid reports that Americans are skeptical of modern science: they actually do believe in creationism as opposed to evolution. More than one-half (53%) of Americans think that a biblical God created human beings in their present form. Less than a quarter (22%) of Canadians think so.  

These differences are more than just philosophical. Americans live differently. For example, in the U.S., 39% of babies are born to women who are not married; compared to 26% in Canada. Among teenagers, rates of sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy are more than twice as high in the U.S. as they are in Canada.

Sarah Palin, who could be the next vice-president, is your regular (especially Republican) American. She shoots a gun, goes to church, believes in creationism, and has a 17-year-old unmarried pregnant daughter!

Both American and Canadian elections are seeing the rise of new generations and new social outlooks.

Stephen Harper is updating the office of our Prime Minister. With the brief exception of Kim Campbell, Harper is our first baby boomer PM. And he’s our first to have a spouse who was divorced.

Harper is a representative of ordinary Canadians, especially Westerners. Harper is a change from our typical Prime Minister like Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chr├ętien, or Paul Martin. Those four were all gregarious, wealthy, Quebec lawyers cozily connected to the billionaire Desmarais family.

Change is also happening in the U.S. For the Republicans, this will be the first time since 1976 that there is no Bush or Dole on the ticket.

Three out of their four presidential and vice-presidential candidates are from modest backgrounds and/or from the West (including as far out as Alaska and Hawaii no less). And of course, most dramatically, the four include an African-American and a woman.

John McCain, who was born in 1936 (and Joe Biden, who was born in 1942), are from the only generation in U.S. history not to have a president. The 2008 election could be their last chance!

Barack Obama, who was born in 1961 (and Sarah Palin, who was born in 1964), almost qualify as members of generation X, not the baby boomer generation. They represent a new perspective that has been called post-racial and post-feminist.

Obama, especially, embraces a new paradigm that draws its inspiration, style, and support from the Internet. Whether he continues to energize the younger generation could well decide the election.

* * * 

See also:

Is it an Election About Nothing?

Stephen Harper is the New Pierre Trudeau

Youth May Soon Lead Change

Issues for the Next Election?

Prime Minister Obama?

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