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Neil Cameron

Neil Cameron is a Montreal writer and historian. He served as a member of Quebec's National Assembly from 1989 to 1994.

The Fall of a Texas Titan

March 31 will be exactly fifty years from the day Lyndon Johnson astonished the world by declaring that he would not run again for President in the coming November election. It was nothing like an anticipated retirement. No figure in American history had so passionately wanted to become President, won so large a first mandate, shepherded into force so many laws of enduring fundamental importance, and kept such narrow and firm hold on the reins of power throughout his years in office. His physical health was poor: he had had a heart attack t 47, and died of another one only five years later, when only 64. but he still appeared indestructible. Over six feet tall, imposing and sometimes intimidating, he devoured whiskey, steaks, cigarettes, sexual liaisons, and lesser mortals. When he had chosen to send half a million American troops to Vietnam four years earlier, he had declared that he would not be the first American President to lose a war, but that was what he was doing, even if it took another seven years for Nixon to complete the messy extrication. A master of professional politics, he had failed as a war lord. The familiar summary of LBJ's rise and fall has been that he was highly successful, even 'great', in introducing domestic policies, above all in civil rights and practical gains for black Americans, drawing on a combination of his own past Congressional expertise and the wave of idealism that swept the country after Kennedy's assassination. But he had fallen from grace, due to both the problems of the war itself, and to its public opposition, both magnified in impact by television. That leaves out a great deal. Johnson's ambitious 'Great Society' domestic policies were not just unpopular with unbending Southern white supremacists; they were widely disliked… Read More

Clashing Trade Theories and a Common Challenge

Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump appear diametrically opposed on international trade and paths to domestic prosperity, at least in rhetoric, and to some extent in real policy. Granted, they are proving more constrained than they would like: long-established bi-national associations, and enduring internal divisions, modify practice.   They also puzzle both friendly and hostile critics, not only due to their individual singularities, but because both international affairs and domestic economic developments have become more confusing over the last three decades. The wider publics in both countries probably remain more unsettled by rapid socioeconomic changes than by threats of nuclear incineration. And while both leaders can cite some good economic news at present, Trump especially, neither 'market globalism' nor 'populist nationalism' have been all that persuasively demonstrated as bringing joy to the majority of citizens.   Neither the Prime Minister nor the President are all that unusual among democratic political leaders in presenting ideological and over-simplified explanations of economic happenings. In fact, both are appealing to opposing arguments about the effects of trade barriers that have not changed a great deal in a century. But this makes it easy to forget that the rising levels of political discontent since the 1990s are not all that closely bound to trading relationships at all.   International trade certainly remains what both of them like making noise about. Trump has continued much of his election campaign rhetoric as First Tweeter. Trudeau favours gestures. Shortly after being elected, he changed the Foreign Affairs Department into a 'Global' one under Chrstia Freeland, although retaining a subordinate Minister for Trade and International Development.   He has also recently boasted that, while signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership accord, he has much improved on the version accepted by Stephen Harper, with more bells and whistles. More narrowly but more concretely,… Read More

Presidents, sacred texts, and their helpful scribes

Le bon Dieu n'en avait que dix! --George Clemenceau (1841-1929), 'Le Tigre', Premier of France 1917-1920, on Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, proclaimed on January 8, 1918. *** Donald Trump's National Security Strategy speech of December 18 contained some of his usual rhetoric, but was prosaic and conventional compared to his last standards. The speech was in a long tradition. American Presidents, far more than leaders of other countries, have repeatedly been fond of producing grand public declarations of principles in foreign affairs. The most famous, or notorious, appeared exactly a century ago: Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points. They somewhat resembled, as Clemenceau sourly observed, God's Laws brought down from the mountaintop to instruct the peoples of the world, but with more ambiguous impact. They did guarantee some permanent fascination with Wilson himself. Other such pronouncements, earlier or later, while also identified with the Presidents who made them, have usually been recognized as also revealing wider currents of ideas and the backstage advisers who helped form them: The Monroe Doctrine, for example, was in both theory and practice, more the achievement of John Quincy Adams and British Foreign Secretary George Canning than of President Monroe, and the recent one of George Bush was largely shaped by neoconservative policy wonks. But this backstage aspect has received less attention in the case of the Fourteen Points. Wilson was a PhD. in political science and prolific scholarly author, of books on government, the classic academic intellectual in public affairs. Nonetheless, his Points had been constructed with the aid of his own kind of brains trust, and reveal more about the American 'progressive' ideology of their time than of war and diplomacy in 1917-18. They have also cast long shadows in American dealings with the world ever since. Wilson's list included some straightforward war aims, like… Read More

The Year of the Pot: A Fantasia

  [May be sung to the air of 'California Dreaming']   Old taboos are down, and state gays are gay; Pardoned by the crown, Justin's sunny way. Natives cease to frown, star in P. M.'s play; Marijuana's coming, so provinces make hay.   It was Justin's vision, in his bold campaign, But did not envision, how he would attain; So he drew young voters, he dare not disappoint; Or they'll turn to floaters, ceasing to anoint.   Quebec is still resisting, legal reefers' lure; Government insisting, for us no high bonjour; Still would like a big tax, should demand increase; Growers in their pot shacks, will greet new Pot Police.   Albertans don't worry, lack Quebec's alarms; Wildcatters now hurry, to plant their dreaming farms. Real estate's declining, oil no longer hot; To keep on gourmet dining, time to bet on pot.   Cash and pot will change hands, on Pacific coasts; Okanagan prime brands, are a special boast. Speed boats filled with hash bricks, take their slice of pie; Armed to prevent cash tricks, crews already high.   On Atlantic waters, more smuggling may return, As Newfie antic plotters replace their fish with fern. Nightly trucks in convoys, transfer leaf to boats; Bringing bucks for old boys, all in U.S. notes.   New taxes hit our lumber, as thump of Trump is heard; But do not ruin our slumber. as all our loins regird; Our U.S. trade may flourish, one export always sold; We merely need to nourish, our Acapulco Gold.   The reefers go back aeons, but always in hot climes; Brought joy to sweating peons, relief from tiresome times. But never has the weed smoke blown over wintry lands So pray it's not a grim joke, a stink bomb in our hands.   If a bomb it… Read More

Liberal Nationalism and Demographic Realism

Doug Saunders and David K. Foot Globe & Mail international affairs journalist Doug Saunders has just published a book intended to influence public policy, Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians is Not Enough (Knopf, 2017). Having already written a not entirely convincing refutation of the Europe-focused alarmism of writers like Mark Steyn about the impact of mass Muslim migration, Saunders this time concentrates on Canada, more on is its reception of new people of all backgrounds than about their composition. It presently looks fairly likely that Canada may slowly acquire several tens of millions of additional population over the coming century, just plugging along with roughly present immigration practices and domestic birth rates, but Saunders wants to see a more rapid and consistent growth policy, moving the country to 100 million as rapidly as possible. He offers empirical and theoretical arguments in support. Most of the pros and cons of adapting such a course could be made in a few pages, but Saunders expands on the pros with two themes. The first is a selective history of the 'failing' quality of government policies from the 19th to the mid-20th century, nearly all years marked by large emigration, sometimes as substantial as the scale of new arrivals, with slow net domestic growth. The second is to portray even the more recent rapidly growing populations of the three or four largest Canadian cities as actually insufficient to provide the internal markets and domestic tax bases to maintain adequate services, thus making it very difficult, for example, for these cities to introduce much of the high-tech rapid public transport found in many large cities elsewhere. Saunders is a much better writer than his enthusiastic policy wonk supporter Irvin Studin, whose G&M review of Maximum Canada is a model of fatuous reasoning and bad… Read More
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