A week ago today, I sent off the final version of my application for Canadian permanent residence, including a copy of my FBI background check (clean), a birth certificate from Washoe County, Nevada, certified copies of my passport and my advanced degrees, and “the important part” a money order for $550. The very same day, I sent a vigorously punctured absentee ballot to the board of elections in Hamilton County, Ohio. If it’s a hanging chad that screws everything up this time around, it won’t be mine.
Had I not been registered to vote in a crucial swing state, as a result of a most unfortunate period of exile right after grad school at a curious university that was really little more than a giant fraternity in the middle of a corn field, I would have done a write-in for a worthy politician, such as Howard Dean, Vaclav Havel, or Dr. Spock. As it was, I had an important decision to make, and the fate of the world, so the editors of the Guardian had determined, was on my shoulders: standard-fare conservatism or aspiring fascism? I fell into the logic of lesser-evilism and, I confess, voted for John Kerry.
Yesterday, my application for permanent residence was returned by the Canadian consulate in Buffalo, stamped in big red letters: INCOMPLETE. Where I was asked to specify any periods of active military service, I had written nothing. The Canadian bureaucrats in Buffalo, it turns out, require every space to be filled in; if an applicant has not served in the military, the proper entry is not nothing, but N/A.
Then today, I got my absentee ballot back in the mail. I had failed to affix adequate postage.
So I’m back where I started. I’m as American as ever, and not a damned bit closer to figuring out how best to use that one vote I’d been granted by virtue of birth, and of the tight job market for Ph.D.s in philosophy.
Had the fates conspired to make me reconsider both my vote and my future?
Could it be that lesser-evilism is in fact, as Bush himself might say, a compromise with Evil? Was I now to recognize this Canadian misadventure for what it was and return to serve my patria? Was I going to have to go back and run for office myself? I could start small. The first Marxist on the Hamilton County school board. Not only would we teach evolution in the public schools, but dialectical materialism, too!
Nonsense. I did what I had to do: I affixed adequate postage to to the absentee ballot, and I filled in the blank boxes on the permanent residence forms with the appropriate N/A’s.
And thus I remain an aspiring Canadian and, as far as the pollsters are concerned, a liberal. Yet I find myself, now more than ever, bound to America as to a beloved teenage son overwhelmed by his hormones, and I find myself more than ever convinced that the Democrats do not have what it takes to pacify this raging brat.
Whence this sense of obligation? I had always considered myself a true cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world, for whom a passport was nothing more than a travel accessory, ontologically no more pertinent to one’s truest, deepest nature than a boarding pass. Why then does America, in this most shameful chapter of its history, command the passionate identification of one of its otherwise most indifferent sons?
I’ll come right out and say that the biggest problem with Canada is that it is boring. It’s honestly all I can do to keep from dozing off the minute my Canadian peers begin their self-congratulatory paeans to the national health care system. Canadians trust their government to do the right thing, and for the most part it does. But in consequence I find that healthy grass- roots contrarianism I know from time spent in wholly corrupt and dysfunctional places like Turkey and Russia largely lacking. One is free of all the turbulence, but only as a castrato is free of passion. I can only hope that the rumors of another Québecois referendum on sovereignty will shake things up a bit.
America, in contrast to Canada, is a mess, and it is exciting. Like Turkey and Russia, America is a place where rational argument plays no part in the political process. Constituencies win out over their opponents not because of the intrinsic superiority of their arguments, but because of their superior brutishness and their superior mastery of the arts of coercion and media manipulation. If the Democrats win, it will only be because they have been manipulated into toeing a party line that is substantially indistinguishable from that of their adversaries.
And this might mean that in America, as in Turkey and Russia, but lord knows not in Canada, if there is ever any real change, it will be the radical kind, the kind that comes not from citizen governors rationally calculating how best to realize justice for all, but from the sheer weight of the citizens, anger at the injustice of a government that has ceased to represent them.
Justin E. H. Smith is a writer living in Montreal, Canada. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org