Obama to Canada: Thanks for the campaign help
Except for the second public sentence out of his visiting mouth, which no one will ever dare write about, President Obama's quick day-trip to Ottawa today was a success.
The new president, on his first journey outside all 57 states, said (see video below) almost all the right things for America's touchy northern neighbors, who anticipate U.S. slights with an uncanny ability. Obama pushed the right buttons.
And because his adoration rating in Canada, at last measure, was well above his popularity back home (see fake Internet border photo above), even if he'd blown the day with some comment about annexing the Great White North, Canadians would have taken it as an obvious joke.
All right, because you insist, we must detail the sole blemish, a minor (but revealing?) one.
As they met the press with more flags around than Canadians usually prefer, Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood behind separate podiums. As is required in that bilingual land, Harper opened with remarks in French. And then said the same things in English. Harper then turned the floor over to the new American president.
"Thank you," said Obama, according to the official White House transcript. "Well, it is a great pleasure to be here in Ottawa."
Nice try. What he actually said was, "Well, it is a great pleasure to be here in Iow-Ottawa."
Iowa. Ottawa. What's the difference? They're both frozen places right now with numerous hockey teams. Or maybe Obama was thinking of 2012 already.
The two leaders appeared very friendly, no automatic given among neighbors. Obama, clearly well-briefed, made the obligatory attempt to list Canadian connections (a brother-in-law and two staff members).
And when, quite quickly, the sensitive subject of Canadian troops in Afghanistan arose, Obama skillfully slipped in his knowledge of Canada's 108 fallen soldiers (largest per capita of any NATO member in combat there) and a preemptive denial that he tried to pressure Harper into sending more troops or staying beyond his rock-firm bipartisan end-of-2011 pullout date. (Canadians would have expected pressure from Bush.)
The reality is it's Canadian combat troops that will leave. Other Canadian military will long remain to train Afghans, although anyone even scanning the last few centuries of history in that war-torn tribal land could be forgiven for thinking it might better for Afghan fighters to be training Westerners there.
As The Ticket reported earlier today, Obama reassured Harper about "Buy American" provisions in....
...the economic stimulus package, said the U.S. would abide by all existing trade agreements and seemed to back away, for now, from firm campaign pledges to labor to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying in a recession everyone must be wary of protectionism.
Both men stressed their promise to work on economic stability and ratified a joint program to promote greenhouse gases and combat energy efficiency. (Just testing if you're reading closely. It's the other way around, of course).
The president then tacked on a comment about politics and the weather. Unlike the Iowa miscue, the White House transcript was able to detect the positive audience reaction. "I want to also, by the way, thank some of the Canadians who came over the border to campaign for me during the -- during the election. (Laughter.) It was much appreciated. And I'm looking forward to coming back to Canada as soon as it warms up. (Laughter.)"
-- Andrew Malcolm
Photo: Associated Press