STIRRETT: Canadian Border Marks Ideological Divide
Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 18, 2012 03:09
Some people call me a political schizophrenic. Back home in Halifax, I am a supporter of the Conservative Party of Canada, but in the United States, I identify with Democrats.
The reason for this paradox is that the political spectra in these two countries are so different that being conservative in Canada makes me a “liberal” in this country. For example, while gay marriage is a topic that continues to be hotly discussed in the United States, it is a relative nonissue in Canada, where marriage equality passed into law in 2005.
By comparison, the question of gay marriage in the United States has Americans basically divided. The emotional resonance of hot-button social issues in American politics is something that many Canadians find hard to understand, as it is so absent from the politics of my native country.
In keeping with this perspective, even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is a conservative, has promised to not reopen the debate on issues such as same-sex marriage. It is the U.S. Republican Party’s draconian stance on many social issues that prevent me from giving them my support.
When it comes to foreign policy in Canada, I support robust military spending and the development of a significant Canadian military presence in the northern territories. As a Canadian, I view the assertion of Arctic sovereignty as an extremely important long-term issue for my country.
With that in mind, in the United States, the GOP has helped to push defense spending beyond financially sustainable levels. As of 2010, the United States’ defense budget is almost equal to the entire defense spending of all the other countries in the world combined. Many Republicans will push for cuts to education or health without even mentioning the potential need to cut military spending.
For the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Canada had a budget deficit of around $30 billion, which is not that bad, considering global economic conditions. By contrast, throughout much of the George W. Bush years, when the American economy was actually growing at a healthy rate, the United States ran deficits that were proportionally much higher.
In essence, Canadian conservatives practice true fiscal discipline through creating manageable deficits during tough times, whereas American Republicans run significant deficits during periods of remarkable economic growth.
The sad reality is that in recent years, the GOP has increasingly become a party controlled by fringe groups. The Rockefeller Republicans of the 1970s have been replaced by the Tea Party. As a result, moderates such as former Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida and center-right leaders such as Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) have lost favor within their party.
The media often talk about “establishment Republicans” who are hawkish and support budget cuts but are not obsessed with the social issues of the far right. But these politicians are quickly losing control of their party as its leadership shifts to reflect the more conservative grassroots.
This is because of tectonic shifts in the leadership of the GOP. In the place of great statesman such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the GOP establishment is being taken over by archconservatives such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kent.) and Ted Cruz, the GOP Senate nominee from Texas. The new GOP establishment has taken on the characteristics and characters of the Tea Party.
In many deeply personal ways, I identify as a Burkean conservative. But when it comes to the skewed politics in the United States, I cannot in good faith support the Republican Party. The GOP may be labeled as “conservative,” but, at least using the classical definition, the party’s unprincipled lack of self restraint has left true conservatism behind.
The Democratic Party is far from perfect. It is too cozy with unions, too often protectionist and too hesitant to tackle meaningful entitlement reform. Yet it remains the party that best reflects my own values in the United States.
In the future, the GOP may move in the direction of other conservatives globally, adopting pragmatic policies centered on fostering economic growth, while striking the right balance between mitigating social inequality and encouraging the private sector.
Conservatism should, in the end, be about living within one’s means and pursuing policies beholden not to ideology but to pragmatism. Unfortunately, the GOP has lost its path, embracing hotheaded ideological purity over tempered reflection.
It is because of — rather than in spite of — my “Canadian conservatism” that I choose to support the Democratic Party and President Obama. It would be contradictory for me to do otherwise.
Scott Stirrett is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.