You are now entering/You are now leaving Canada. Welcome/Come back soon, Mr. President

Like so many others, I was impressed-as-heck with the U.S. President’s visit this week to the Canadian capital. It was a far less uncomfortable spectacle than when their predecessors last convened in Ottawa, where it was discovered that neither the U.S. leader, Mr. Bush, nor the Canadian leader, M. Chretien, spoke a solitary word of English between them. On that previous occasion, their exchanged grunting and gibbering at a televised state dinner seemed intensified after local organizers arranged for someone’s brother-in-law to look after the AV arrangements, in a contract valued at nearly twelve dollars. The ornate scene was outfitted with a single 40-watt overhead light and a lone microphone declared surplus by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, back around the age of Norman DePoe. The impression I had, watching on television as Bush and Chretien slurped soup, was that the world was scheduled to end in around 10 minutes, and these esteemed leaders were being televised from their refuge in an undersea cavern off the New Zealand coast.

If we had our Strothers, we`d be getting along better with Mr. Martin
If we had our Strothers, we`d be getting along better with Mr. Martin

Failure to communicate, Strother Martin-style, is far from the problem concerning the facile Mr. Obama, and the earnestly articulate Mr. Harper. Both could talk the scales and bones right off the Arctic Char, as they might say up north. Where the previous two North American leaders were, let’s say, somewhat provincial and cloistered in their outlook and bearing, the current pair seemed perfectly at ease with their respective roles, and with each other. Mr. Obama seems not to be the sort of American visitor to Canada who grows tetchy the first time he notices gasoline being dispensed by the litre, and later becomes unhinged upon determining the scarcity of Pabst Blue Ribbon or that local brand of pork rinds they sell in Tulsa. Similarly, because Mr. Obama was spared the horror of having to converse with minor Canadian political figures such as Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe, he was presumably able to skip the lecture concerning the superiority of Canadian healthcare and the unfair level of transfer payments to Quebec. I’m certain I wasn’t the only one who was reminded, as Mr. Obama boarded his plane back to civilization, of Humphrey Bogart and Claude Raines at the conclusion of Casablanca, chirping about how this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Or not. As effusive as Mr. Obama was in his praise of the neighbor-nation, there are many of his countrymen who still struggle with the difficult concept of a land that looks, sounds and smells like the United States — but isn’t. It’s comparable to the disorientation our English cousins seem to experience after they’ve inadvertently stumbled over the footbridge into Chepstow, Wales, except that the English know instinctively how to handle such a situation, which is to shrug and continue their binge-drinking. An American, separated from his or her homeland, seems to lack that sort of easy adaptability, and feels compelled to begin explaining things, first to themselves and to then anyone unfortunate enough to be in proximity.

Chepstow, a town in Wales, which is another country that isn`t the USA
Chepstow, a town in Wales, which is another country that isn`t the USA

So it was in Ottawa with the saddest Americans of all, those representing the national media.

Noting the presense at Mr. Obama’s arrival of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, replete with ceremonial scarlet tunics, CNN newscaster Fredrika Whitfield, normally no imbicile, was flummoxed. She admitted her confusion to the viewing public: ”They appear to be some sort of troops.” Other stateside journos, made knowledgable of RCMP protocol by watching Dudley Doright cartoons in childhood, wondered aloud how the Mounties had arrived at the airport without their horses. One bears this foolishness with neighborly good humor; you should hear the nutty things they say about their own country.

Of course, there’s never any shortage of stupidity in the Canadian media, either. The gold standard of local idiocy, the Toronto Star, continues to stick to the plot of its serially published fantasy, which involves an imaginary Canadian political leader named Iggy, who is standing by and about to grab the tiller that steers the federal government. The Star was offering its readers an alternate-reality account of the presidential visit, wherein the American president acknowledged and took a real liking to this fictitious Iggy character, and has him sized up as a better candidate for the role of sidekick than the elected leader of Canada, Mr. Harper.

Indeed, when Mr. Obama finally quits screwing around with the economy and short-hop foreign visits, and gets around to the serious business of buying a dog for his daughters, he could surely find a worse name for the pooch than Iggy. Other than which, it’s fair to assume that the Star‘s Iggy must have struck Mr. Obama as a certain type of figure he’d seen in his prior career in Chicago politics, the grinning one-name supplicant — Ziggy the ethnic fellow, or Wiggy the high-strung man, or Piggy the overweight boy with the snout-like nose — who presents himself as qualified for employment as a city library worker, or night custodian at Midway airport, or as a toll-taker on one of Chicagoland’s many fine bridges and thoroughfares.

That is, if he made any impression at all.

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