I just got back from Upper Canada, where it was -30° C in the daytime, and the following bit of video from the time of George Bush’s Ottawa visit was making the rounds. It’s Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson taking a few cheap shots at Canadians while some gormless backbencher clucks feebly in the Dominion’s defense. I must warn you, the clip does neither country any credit. And it’s not nearly as satisfying as the justly famous video of Jon Stewart schooling Tucker on Crossfire. But you can go watch it now, in Quicktime or Windows Media. I’ll wait.
Are you back? OK. Yes. I know. Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Ann and Tucker don’t really surprise or dismay me here. Dog sledding cracks, “we could roll over and crush you,” “you need us more than we need you”—yes, yes, the United States is big, Canada is small, it’s cold, quite a formidable argument you have there. If somebody (let’s say, hypothetically, a conservative American TV pundit) has spent absolutely no time in their life thinking about Canada, the first time they do have any reason to do so, these are exactly the things they will think of. And because they have never had these thoughts before, every little thing that pops into their mind will strike them as deliciously novel and clever. I’m only surprised Tucker didn’t manage to say “oot and aboot,” and Ann didn’t ask why the NHL doesn’t have a bunch of really fat hockey goalies.
Tangent: You see, the very first time anybody watches a hockey game, the same thought always occurs to them: Why don’t hockey teams get somebody really fat to be the goalie? Wouldn’t that make it much easier to block the puck? Now, after two to three minutes of rational thought, most primates will see that a hockey net is six feet wide by four feet high, so unless you’re strapping skates and pads on Jabba the Hutt, you’re not going to block any goals by girth alone. The result of this universal thought process is that if somebody ever does suggest fat goalies to you, you will know that the very concept of hockey only entered their mind in the last 180 seconds or so.
Anyway. Ann and Tucker don’t bother me in this footage any more than they usually do. What does anguish me is the utterly feeble response from Canada’s designated defenders. Alan Colmes does his ineffectual “I’m not really a liberal but I play one on FOX” bit, and Ann just rolls right over him, not unlike the hypothetical invasion of Canada that has her licking her lips. I kind of like the other guy in the first clip, Newsday‘s Ellis Henican, who just bounces up and down saying “oooooh!” to everything, like he’s egging on a fight in the junior high lunchroom. But Carolyn Parrish going toe to toe with Tucker Carlson on the Wolf Blitzer show? Oy, Canada. I weep for my country.
Parrish is the Canadian Member of Parliament for Mississauga, Ontario, and she was recently ejected from the Liberal Party for her outbursts against both George Bush and Prime Minister Paul Martin. She’s on CNN because, ostensibly, she’s a leading Canadian critic of American foreign policy. She made cracks about a “coalition of idiots,” stomped on a George Bush action figure on the news-comedy show This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and told the rest of her party to “go to hell.” So why is it that when faced with an honest-to-goodness red-blooded red-state right-wing American, this firebrand of the Canadian left (/sarcasm) is absolutely flummoxed? Has she truly never had the “what do Americans think about Canada” conversation? Has she never met a living American citizen? Tucker Carlson is making the same kind of juvenile but harmless jokes that probably two-thirds of Americans (on the left or the right) think of the first time they encounter a Canadian. Yet Carolyn is totally blindsided. “Oh, oh, Tucker. I can’t believe you just said that. Oh, my. Oh, dear. Oh, heavens.” She should have worn a monocle in one eye so that it could have popped out in aristocratic astonishment. (Obligatory Simpsons ref: “That’s my third monocle this week! I simply must stop being so horrified!”)
Just to recap: the source of Carolyn’s beef with the Bush administration is this war they are fighting in Iraq. Thirteen hundred Americans and at least ten times that many Iraqis are dead. Yet with Wolf Blitzer’s help, Carolyn and Tucker spend more than half that segment discussing the proportion of Canadians likely to be dog sledding. This, apparently, is the pressing issue of the day. (Admittedly, I didn’t see the original broadcast, so I don’t know how that clip has been edited. But nothing in it inspires much confidence that they went on to have an intelligent debate of the war that somehow got edited out.)
Finally, and worst of all, here is Carolyn’s zinger. Here is her big money punchline, her comeback on behalf of all Canadians to this smarmy neocon punk:
“There’s a lot of dog walking, my friend. Not a lot of dog sledding.”
(Long silence. A lonesome cricket chirps. Or maybe for Canadian content, the mournful call of a distant loon.)
“There’s a lot of dog walking, my friend. Not a lot of dog sledding.”
Oh, Carolyn, Carolyn, Carolyn. That line might have earned one grudging chuckle on Front Page Challenge in 1963, but it is not going to stop the 21st Century enfants terrible of neoconservatism in their tracks. I hang my toqued head in shame.
Why does this bother me so much? I think it’s because the Canadians I know are clever, and quick-witted, and media-savvy. At least, that’s how I like to see them. They—and when I say “they,” I mean “we”—aren’t just weaned on American TV, they’re steeped in it. That’s something I really like about Canadians. Call us socialists, if you want. We like that. Make jokes aboot our accents, or donuts, or the cold. Am I going to deny it? It was 30 freaking degrees below zero on Monday! But make us look like we don’t know how television works? Like we don’t know from American media and pop culture? That hurts. That really hurts. We can’t all be Jon Stewart, but I like to think there are a few Canadians who could make mincemeat out of Tucker Carlson in a debate, or at the very least hold their own.
What should Carolyn have said? What would I have said in her place? I’m not sure. Keep in mind I am a bit of an anomaly as a left-leaning Canadian who also happens to truly love the U.S.A. But I might have tossed out something like, “TUCKER. YOU ARE A SHILL FOR A MONSTROUS AND UNWINNABLE WAR.” And then, you know, just see where that took the conversation.
I would not have engaged the dog sledding question. I would not have tried to win the “you need us more than we need you” debate. I might have said, “Of course we need you. Of course Canada needs the United States more than the United States needs Canada. Canada needs the United States to be part the world community and not a war-making pariah. Canada needs it not to mortgage our futures by sinking the economy that feeds us too. Canada needs it not to flee from the terrors of liberty into becoming a paranoid police state.” I might have said, “We know you got hurt. We know you didn’t deserve it, and we know you didn’t see it coming. And we know you’re lashing out now, and flailing around, and hurting yourself and the other people who love you. We’re telling you this because we are your friends, and we know you better than anybody else, and that is what friends do.” I might have said, “We know you’re scared, but we need you to be brave now, brave enough to see that this war is not doing you or anybody else any good any more. We need you to live up to all the things we’ve always loved about you. We need you to be adults.”
I have no illusions that any of that would have worked on Tucker or Ann. But at least I could watch it on television without wanting to emigrate to Mexico.