I’m utterly dismayed at US ambassador David Wilkins’ controversial comments about Canadian politics.
Why? Well, for starters, I now have to listen to Canadian media personalities, their voices aquiver with excitement, report ad nauseum on the amazing spectacle of the US paying us some attention. It’s all so mortifying. They noticed us! They really really noticed us! Even worse, of course, is that this will give a new lease on political life to Paul Martin’s corrupt Liberals.
In the world of Bushdom, every center-left leader gets to win once on his own steam and then a second time by running on domestic disdain for George W. Bush.
Why isn’t this obvious to Bush’s cronies? Back in 1963, when the Kennedy administration was faced with a similar blast of election-year US-bashing from Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, they dealt with the issue rather more intelligently. There’s a hilarious phone conversation between Kennedy and William Tyler that sheds some light on this subject. David Coleman at the Miller Center was kind enough to provide me a draft transcript of the conversation a couple years ago. (It has never been published.)
The subject was the so-called â€œRostow memorandum,â€ a confidential White House working paper brought to Ottawa by Kennedyâ€™s negotiators in May, 1961. The memo advised the President to â€œpushâ€ Canada to accept nuclear weapons under the joint control of both countries. But the document was carelessly left behind by Kennedyâ€™s advisors, and Diefenbaker refused to return it.
With the Prime Minister lagging in pre-election polls in March 1963, details of the confidential document were leaked to Southam reporter Charles Lynch. Lynch reported (falsely) that the memo encouraged US negotiators to push Canada to decrease her trade with Communist Cuba and China, threatening tariffs, quotas, or even reduced US defence production sharing if their demands were not met. â€œThatâ€™s not in it at all,â€ Kennedy tells his advisor, William Tyler, laughing incredulously at the story.
Kennedy continues, in a passage that should be engraved in David Wilkins’ head:
Of course, he [Diefenbaker]’s a liar. Now, the question really is what reaction this is having up there and what we ought to do about it. . . . If [the story is] helping Diefenbaker we ought to think about knocking it down. The question would be how? It ought to be just Canadian. . . . Or maybe we just ought to shut up.
In the end, the President leaked the document to an American reporter, James Reston, who wrote a sympathetic story in the Montreal Star.
And Dief lost the election.