The inauguration this week of Barack Obama as the United States of America’s 44th president was greeted with almost as much glee on this side of the border. Canadians can’t get enough of the man who replaces George W. Bush.
Canadians followed the protracted U.S. election campaign with far more interest than we mustered for the federal election here. We’re drawn to the U.S. vote because of the spectacle and because we’re in many ways tied to what goes on to the south. When Obama won the Democratic nomination, we seemed as captivated as everyone else by his eloquence and rallying cries for change.
It’s safe to say most Canadians would have opted for Obama if we’d had a vote. Our choice over John McCain. Certainly over Bush. And over Stephen Harper, too.
There was also an additional pull this time, sparked by what Bush has done to the U.S. While we relate in many ways to our American cousins, we simply can’t wrap our heads around the appeal of the Republicans, especially the socially conservative, warmongering version in power for the last eight years.
But can we really expect to see real change in the U.S.? Probably not, and not just because Obama assumes the job burdened by Bush’s many mistakes: the financial collapse, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and record deficits, among others.
There will be some improvements, notably on the budget front, including more fairness in the tax system. That’s how it played out when Bill Clinton came to the White House, cleaning up after the huge mess made by Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. So much the better, but not likely the kind of systemic changes some people have in mind after listening to Obama’s speeches.
Real change would involve the U.S. discontinuing its imperialism, pulling out of its wars and state-sponsored terrorism and reducing its military spending and adventurism. To do so, Obama would have to rein in the special interests that really set the agenda, the powerful lobbies led by the military contractors. An unlikely scenario.
Still, he did get off to a quick start, moving to undo the long list of mess-ups Bush left behind, his only legacy.
Obama has already announced plans to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay while reducing the presidential powers Bush had concentrated in his White House. That includes ordering prisoners held without trial and wiretaps without judicial orders. He also pledged to make his administration more open, immediately calling for information to be released more freely.
“Let me say it as simply as I can. Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.
“Information will not be withheld just because I say so,” Obama said. “It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution.”
Symbolic gestures such as freezing salaries for staff members making more than $100,000 were joined by tighter control on lobbyists, a move that if enforced correctly could have at least some impact on the way business is routinely done in Washington.
Don’t expect the world to change, but there’s reason for optimism.