I’m sitting right now in my local coffeeshop, which has its TV permanently tuned to CNN (though they will occasionally change to ESPN if there’s a big sporting event on, but that’s somewhat besides the point). On CNN just now, there was a commercial expressing opposition to federal health care reform, suggesting—and you’ve heard all this before, I know—that if Congress and the White House so much as lay a finger on the status quo of American health care, we’ll all be forced into a system where we’re forced to wait for months for awful-quality care and we won’t have access to specialized surgical procedures or anything like that. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the specter of SOCIALISM—and we know, because this is “Canadian-style healthcare,” and no one likes Canada. Right?
Now, I’m a firm supporter of health care reform that includes a public option, and I just so happen to have some pretty socialist tendencies myself. But reasonable people of goodwill, etc., and our democracy means people are free to pay to have their commercials that disagree with me aired on CNN. I don’t even know who the group was who sponsored this commercial, and I don’t really care. What angers me is the implication that “Canadian-style healthcare” is automatically a bad thing, and that a shot of the Canadian flag waving would be enough for red-blooded Americans to call up their Congressmen and -women and urge them to oppose health care reform. I strongly doubt that anyone who would be persuaded by a commercial like this has lived in Canada, been through the Canadian health care system, or has any basis on which to suppose that the Canadian health care system is bad—other than that, well, it’s Canada, so it must be.
Americans often take this dismissive attitude to other countries, too—we’ve seen it with regard to France, of course, and anywhere else that you can diss socialism, like Scandinavia or the Netherlands or Germany (the UK is exempt because of World War II). But it particularly bothers me when Americans regard Canada as inferior just for the sake of it being Canada, because I’m a citizen of both countries. I’ve spoken here before about why I’m a proud American, but I’m a proud Canadian too. I love my second country for its multiculturalism, its laid-back attitude, its breathtaking Great North scenery, its cities where the legacy of British and French colonialism meet 21st-century high-tech North American development. I have spent maybe four or six weeks out of every year in Canada since I was born. When I go through customs at the Vancouver airport and present the guard with my American passport and the card that certifies I’m a Canadian citizen too, I’m reminded that being American does not mean a forced acknowledgment that every other country is inferior to the United States, that there are things to love about wherever you call home, and that there’s no reason why there needs to be an either/or.
I wish Americans who will be persuaded by a commercial that says health care reform is bad because it is Canadian would take the time to visit Canada. I wish they’d be won over, as I have, by all the cultural institutions of a country that is sometimes more similar to western Europe than it is to the rest of North America, but that is no less wonderful. And I wish that Americans who will be persuaded by such a commercial would realize that world hegemony and an aggressive foreign policy are not an acceptable replacement for a higher standard of living, a dedication to human rights and civil rights, and a respect for all the country’s citizens when it comes to deciding which countries are great and which are to be ridiculed.