So, we are having this argument with Al Hunt and Judy Woodruff. Not an argument really, more a noodling over the inner recesses of the mind of George Bush. It is agreed that he likes to hear only from those who tell him what he likes to hear. This is on a panel before an interesting collection called the international convention of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), who are in the process of being dazzled by the sunshine and summertime snowy peaks of Whistler, B.C., and the rainy charms of Vancouver.
AÍ Hunt is the Washington bureau chief of the terribly serious Wall Street Journal, which, with six million readers, happens to have the highest circulation of any paper in North America, which might be a hint as to where newspapers should be headed. Judy Woodruff happens to be his wife and the chief Washington correspondent of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, the only American show close to the CBC approach to news, probably because its coowner is Halifax’s own Robin MacNeil.
The thesis—this corner’s contention—is that George Bush is essentially an insecure man, reminding every American woman, as someone has said, “of her first husband.” He surrounds himself with good ol’ buddies. Secretary of State James Baker he met on a Texas tennis court 30 years ago—when he went to the Oil Patch to launder his New England Brahmin background. Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher is another rich Texan of long acquaintance.
Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady is another Ivy League blue blood whom Bush went to school with. And the new American ambassador to the Soviet Union, Robert Strauss, a charming, aging gillionaire who admits to speaking no Russian, but is a Texan and long a friend—though a Democrat—of Bush’s.
Leslie Gelb, the most welcome addition to The New York Times commentary page, wrote last week that never since the Second World War have there ever been so few men who have had so much control over the making of American foreign and defence policy. Basically, all the decisions—from the Gulf
War to arms treaties to forcing a peace conference on Israel—are decided by Bush and three confidants: Baker, the venerable national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and the ambitious Defence Secretary Dick Cheney (who will compete with Baker in stepping on the cherub face of dear Danforth Quayle on the way to being the Bush successor in the White House).
The insular Washington cabal fits in perfectly with the American mind-set. Listen up. Americans essentially are not much interested in the world they by happenstance, thanks to the collapse of the European powers, have to lead.
We are at Whistler, evolved into a yearround resort now as beautiful in summer as it is exhilarating (and expensive) in winter. The YPO gang is the largest convention ever encompassed there, the largest YPO international convention ever. The YPO ethic is that you have to be a hotshot CEO, if not exactly a millionaire, by the age of 40. And you have to get out by the
age of 50. What you have here is a conglomeration of type-A people.
They are here from Brazil. An amazing character from Australia, who arrived there from Canada with his last $1,000, took the first fastfood chicken franchise in the country and is now, need we ask, a plutocrat. There is a couple from Chile. People from Hong Kong, South Africa, Denmark, Japan, Turkey, Mexico, the Philippines, Germany, Scotland and Singapore.
But mostly, as could be expected, from the United States. Your agent, the innocent as usual, was asked to supply a suggested topic. What was suggested was “Will Quebec Separate?” This was a serious mistake.
There were some 1,500 bodies present— including the 2.5 children per family. That leaves perhaps 600 adults who have a smorgasbord of lectures to pick over, 10 or so at each of three morning sessions. There is “Marriage Takes More than Love.” Not to mention “Getting Your Act Together Before You Need To ... Survival Kit for Wives.” And “The Psychology of the Executive Man.” And “Sexuality.”
How does the crisis of Quebec, which we think absorbs world opinion, rank in the scheme of things? A thin smattering of bodies show up, by eye-glance and questions revealing some 10 Canadians and perhaps a halfdozen Americans.
A crushed ego was further crushed by a friend who advised that the title of the sermon was dumb; the obvious solution would have been “What Would the Separation of Quebec Do to the Sexuality of the American Executive?”
Too true. As more than several of the Americans among the lecturers—we numbered 53 in all—point-
ed out, Americans are amazingly insular. They do not like the mantle of world leadership that has been thrust upon them. They are exceedingly generous and friendly, but are people who want to get on with their generally pleasant and comfortable lives—especially in the ambience of Whistler and Vancouver.
Canadians in their conceit—this sermonizer in his conceit—think that the prospect of Canada breaking up is a great concern among our oblivious neighbors to the south. In truth, they don’t really care. Israel is a bigger problem. Japan looms large. The fact that the Democratic party has disappeared is a puzzlement.
Canada, the mouse in bed with the elephant, is smug in the belief that the United States might be concerned that Quebec might separate. The speaker, perhaps intoxicated by the mountain air of Whistler, had the same naiVe belief that the subject mattered. It didn’t. Relax. We’re not as important as we think.
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