Bush 43 in Calgary – Part II

March 18th, 2009
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Before I continue my report and, given that I described the yahoos yesterday, I’ll recount a bit of what I learned in the hour-long line-up outside the convention centre Tuesday. Based on the quality of the suits, designer glasses and the quantity of styling mousse and hair gel, I’m guessing the crowd was mostly accountants, lawyers and bankers (the down and dirty professions in Calgary, like engineers and geoscientists, don’t tend to wear suits). The golf banter was unavoidable and I learned a lot about different courses in Alberta and B.C., including something called an “iron man” tournament which apparently consists of 27 holes – I suppose it’s a real iron man if you actually walk the course and skip the buffet lunch.

By the end of the wait I was wondering if some of the protestors might be better conversationalists. As it was, I was able to get past the metal detectors and security even though my shoelaces were loose.

Of course the usual politicos were there, sprinkled through the crowd: one klein former premier, MLA’s and provincial ministers (like Ted Morton); Don Plett, president of the federal party; National Councilor Gordon Elliott and on and on. The only incongruous note was Frank McKenna acting as interlocutor with Mr. Bush. I guess he was one of the few Liberals blue enough to show his face in front of that crowd. Let me repeat here too that the number of protestors has been greatly exaggerated. There were less than 100. You can judge for yourselves why some media are reporting over 450!

But back to the president. Some of his remarks have been reported, but I’ll try to augment these. Firstly, let me repeat that the tone of his speech was upbeat. He was forthright, forceful, at times ebullient. His remarks seemed fueled by that self-assuredness that so annoyed his enemies. As one politician I know said “He’s not plagued by self-doubt”. Contrary to some media reports, B43 was absolutely unapologetic about his record, unless you consider prefacing some comments with “this may be controversial” an apology.

That’s precisely how he framed the War on Terror. He repeated the fact that he was profoundly affected by 911. Then came the qualifier: “This may sound controversial… but there is an enemy”. He maintained that we are in a war of ideologies. Just as a there was an ideological war against fascism and against Communism, we are now in a war against “extremism with a religious face”.

He then spent quite a bit of time elaborating his view of how freedom has a transformative effect on nations. I would dub this the Sharansky Doctrine, because Soviet Refusenik Natan Sharansky outlines precisely this thesis in his book, The Case for Democracy. In it he describes how Ronald Reagan’s firm policy against the Soviet Union emboldened dissidents and laid the groundwork for democracy in the region.

President Bush made this case for the Middle East and his decision to oust dictator Saddam Hussein. His strongest quote was that “the ultimate elitism is to say I can be free but you can’t”. This, to him, was the position of his opponents in the West.

He gave very personal evidence to back this up by describing his personal relationship with Japanese president Junichiro Koizumi. The fact that Japan could be such a close ally of the United States and Mssrs. Bush and Koizumi could be friends, when George Bush Sr. had flown in combat against them and such an alliance seemed unthinkable a generation ago, proves to Mr. Bush that freedom and democracy can cause profound, fundamental change.

Finally he talked about his initiative against AIDS and malaria in Africa. This was done for two reasons. First, it was in America’s interest: “hopelessness breeds suicide bombers” he said. Secondly, America had a moral obligation to help those in need, and further, that we are made better by doing it.

He pointedly remarked that other nations at first refused to join his aid plan. This is where he said it’s good he wasn’t “a group-think kind of guy” – otherwise the project would never have gotten off the ground. His approach was: identify a problem, explain it and act. Not much time for consensus building there. The one thing I can say, based on my meagre experience in government, is that every time you add another party into the decision-making mix, you exponentially increase the difficulty and significantly reduce the chance of accomplishing anything. So he may have a point.

His last point on the topic was to say that the U.S. sent aid “not out of guilt but out of love”. I’m sure that would cause a few more shoes to be thrown by his opponents.

It was a great speech and I don’t regret the cold feet, the protestors, or the lessons on golf geography. The Gulf geography is what was important; that and all the fascinating personal insights. A day to remember.

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By John Weissenberger