Monday, September 1, 2008

Canada's choice: Historically, Canadians favour Democratic U.S. presidents, but wouldn't McCain embrace us?

Point Counterpoint

It's convention season. The Nov. 4 election is on the horizon. But will Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain be better for Canada? Sun Media columnists Lisa Van Dusen and Theo Caldwell debate that issue -- and David Hasselhoff.

Van Dusen: Hey, Theo. Just back from Washington, where heads are still shaking at the contrast between Obama's Berlin gig and McCain's scrum at the Columbus Fudge Haus. Shall we start with world view?

Caldwell: When Americans saw Obama applauded by the same folks who launched David Hasselhoff's singing career, they likely had second thoughts. Yes, in your political circles, whenever McCain is mentioned, people run away so fast their sandals fly off and they leave their hummus untouched. But that's no kind of argument.

Van Dusen: That's the funny thing ... the Republicans have come over all girlish, too -- Obamafest has mythologized the campaign among the junkies on both sides. He'd be better for Canada because after eight years of catastrophic anti-diplomacy, he talks about an America secure enough to stop swaggering. As the elephant's bedmate, Canada could only benefit from that.

Caldwell: Whether the president swaggers, skips or minces, it will do Canada no good if he pulls out of NAFTA, as Obama has contemplated. McCain walks with a manly gait and, more important, he prefers free trade to tariffs. That is the best diplomacy.

Van Dusen: Canadian diplomats who deal with the file aren't that concerned about what he's contemplated. They know two things: If he wins, economic pragmatism will prevail and they need to do a better job of leveraging it for the Democrats by selling the good side of NAFTA to the U.S. public.

Caldwell: Of course Canadian diplomats aren't concerned -- they get paid the same whether NAFTA gets killed or not. For Canadian manufacturers, exporters and workers, Obama's anti-trade attitude puts their livelihoods at risk. As to pragmatism, watch what happens when Obama hikes taxes on an already slow economy.

Van Dusen: Yes, far better for the economy to follow Bush, who turned a $236-billion surplus into a record $415-billion deficit in his first four years, with McCain, who said, "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." Whose top economic adviser, Phil Gramm, described the cratering economy as a "mental recession" conjured by a "nation of whiners." Taxes will go up regardless when Bush's crackpot tax cuts expire.

Caldwell: Neither Bush nor Gramm is running for president this time, but if you think you bolster an economy by raising taxes, then Obama is definitely your guy. Canada needs a U.S. economy that has low taxes and spending, a strong dollar, and is open for business. That's McCain's policy.

Van Dusen: I think you bolster an economy by being responsible and far-sighted and by first correcting the mess you've been left with, which will be much easier for Obama to do, politically.

Caldwell: Yes, with a Democratic Congress, it will be politically easy for Obama to enact his plan of trade barriers, high taxes and massive government programs. None of these helps Canada. McCain, meanwhile, came to Canada to remind us he values our trade and friendship.

Van Dusen: Funny timing: Obama's new tax-cutting plan, announced recently, was praised by your friends at the Heritage Foundation.

Caldwell: Heritage denounced Obama's plan, except one facet pertaining to Congress' budget baseline. Either you know this, or you didn't read the report. I trust your integrity, if not your judgment, so I suspect the latter. If the criterion for helping Canada is getting the most cheering Germans together, Obama wins.

Van Dusen: Um ... from Aug. 15 piece by Russell Berman in righty New York Sun: "A senior policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Rea Hederman Jr., praised Obama for proposing a 20% tax rate on dividends and capital gains, lower than a 28% rate he had initially floated, though still more than the current 15% rate. 'That's a great step in the right direction,' Hederman said. 'It's a big change from what we thought the Obama tax plan would be at the beginning of the summer.' "

Caldwell: Like I said, you didn't read the report. You found a snippet in a newspaper. And that quotation doesn't praise "Obama's new tax-cutting plan," as you claimed, it says his capital gains hike isn't as bad as it was originally. Seems you've embraced the value of tax cuts, though. Progress.

Van Dusen: Heritage Foundation reports on Democratic candidates hold no surprises, whereas the praise was exceptional, which was why it was news. Obama polls higher than McCain on the economy because the last eight years have proven the adage if you want to live like a Republican, vote Democrat.

Caldwell: If scaling back his own tax hike proposal is your idea of "tax-cutting," then you're definitely a Democrat. Tax revenues are at all-time highs since the 2003 cuts. Spending is the problem. The fact remains Obama will raise taxes, spending and trade barriers. McCain won't, and that helps Canada.

Van Dusen: I was living in New York in 2001 when Bush's tax rebate came in the mail and, given I was making more than $100,000 a year, it struck me as ridiculous. Yes, spending has been the problem. More important, McCain has a view of America's relationship with the rest of the world that belongs to an era of hi-balls and hula hoops. That wouldn't help Canada.

Caldwell: Tax cuts increase revenue and spur economies. I know they don't teach this at Democrat School, swamped as they are with lessons about recycling and self-esteem, but it's a demonstrable fact. As to worldview, Obama seems more eager to meet with Chavez, Castro and Ahmadinejad than with Canada's leaders.

Van Dusen: I guess if tax cuts unfolded in a vacuum or even in a time of sane economic policy, that would have been an argument worth having. But as McCain said about the Bush tax cuts in 2001, "I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans who need tax relief."

Caldwell: Again, Bush isn't running this year. So far, Obama's consideration of Canada consists of slapping tariffs on our exports. McCain came and expressed his appreciation for us in person. If you'd rather go with the guy the Germans love, be my guest, but McCain knows who America's real friends are.