If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia.
--Margaret Atwood, Canadian writer
Vancouver, British Columbia
WHENEVER I THINK OF CANADA . . . strike that. I'm an American, therefore I tend not to think of Canada. On the rare occasion when I have considered the country that Fleet Streeters call "The Great White Waste of Time," I've regarded it, as most Americans do, as North America's attic, a mildewy recess that adds little value to the house, but serves as an excellent dead space for stashing Nazi war criminals, drawing-room socialists, and hockey goons.
Henry David Thoreau nicely summed up Americans' indifference toward our country's little buddy when he wrote, "I fear that I have not got much to say about Canada. . . . What I got by going to Canada was a cold." For the most part, Canadians occupy little disk space on our collective hard drive. Not for nothing did MTV have a game show that made contestants identify washed-up celebrities under the category "Dead or Canadian?"
If we have bothered forming opinions at all about Canadians, they've tended toward easy-pickings: that they are a docile, Zamboni-driving people who subsist on seal casserole and Molson. Their hobbies include wearing flannel, obsessing over American hegemony, exporting deadly Mad Cow disease and even deadlier Gordon Lightfoot and Nickelback albums. You can tell a lot about a nation's mediocrity index by learning that they invented synchronized swimming. Even more, by the fact that they're proud of it.
But ever since George W. Bush's reelection, news accounts have been rolling in that disillusioned Americans are running for the border in protest. This prompts the thought that it may be time to stop treating Our Canadian Problem with such cavalier disregard. In fact, largely as a result of Bush and his foreign policy, what was once a polite rivalry has become a poisoned well of hurt feelings and recriminations.
These days, Canadian publications are chockablock with surveys showing that Canadians see themselves as something akin to a superior race. The prime ministers of what was once a reliable ally that ponied up in times of war have treated us like traffic-light squeegee-men when we've stopped at their corner, asking for assistance with our latest military adventure. They have spurned our missile-defense shield out of spite, even knowing it would save their Canadian bacon. Their legislators have publicly called us "bastards" and stomped on our president in effigy. Their citizens have booed our children at peewee hockey games.
Being bloodthirsty Americans, we have naturally fired a few warning volleys in lieu of slapping them with a restraining order. A few years ago, my friend Jonah Goldberg from National Review wrote a piece elegantly titled "Bomb Canada," encouraging us to smack Soviet Canuckistan, as Pat Buchanan calls it, "out of its shame-spiral" since "that's what big brothers do." Canadians responded as Canadians always will when faced with overt aggression. They wrote inordinate numbers of letters of concern, exercising what Canadian writer Douglas Coupland calls their "almost universal editorial-page need to make disapproving clucks."
Equal outrage was caused when Conan O'Brien showed up to help boost tourism after the SARS crisis. Along for the ride came a Conan staple, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who in dog-on-the-street interviews relentlessly mocked French Canadians. When one pudgy Quebecer admitted he was a separatist, Triumph suggested he might want to "separate himself from doughnuts for a while."
Canadians seethed--though polls show they pride themselves on being much funnier than Americans (don't ask me why, when they're responsible for Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, and Alan Thicke). One MP from the socialist New Democratic party called the show "vile and vicious," and said it was tantamount to hatemongering. Historians believe this to be the first time a member of parliament has so categorically denounced a hand puppet.
WITH THE REELECTION OF BUSH, however, this poor man's Cold War may be swinging Canada's way. Trend-spotters on both sides of the 49th Parallel have taken note of "the Bush refugee," the American progressive who has decided to flee to Canada after growing heartsick at the soul-crushing death knell of liberalism that pundits declared after the president's two-point victory.
A cottage industry was born. Anti-American/pro-Canadian blogs proliferated, as blogs unfortunately do. Websites like canadianalternative.com are open for business, trying to entice emotionally vulnerable Americans to turn their backs on family, friends, and country with boasts that Canada has signed the Kyoto protocol, legalized gay marriage in six provinces, and seen its Senate recommend legalizing marijuana. Vancouver immigration lawyer Rudi Kischer took a whole team, complete with realtors and money-managers, to recruit in American cities, helping potential defectors overcome immigration concerns, such as how to pass Canada's elitist skilled-worker test for entry (Give us your affluent, your overeducated, your Unitarian masses yearning for socialized medicine).
Dejected Americans, most of whom already live in progressive enclaves, began sounding off to reporters, vowing to check out of the Red-American wasteland before true misfortune befell them. In footage of a Kischer seminar in San Francisco that I obtained from a Canadian documentary film crew (working title of the piece: "Escaping America"), one attendee who looked like a lost Gabor sister but with more plastic surgery said, "I really can't stand George Bush. I can't stand this culture, which is very selfish, aggressive, and mean, violent I think." After going to Canada for just a half an hour from Buffalo, she concluded, "It was like a completely different country. . . . The people seemed more internationally aware, not so isolated and unilateral. There was less evidence of commercialism and corporations. People were friendly."
IT SOUNDED LIKE such an idyllic Rainbowland that I had to see it for myself. So I flew to Vancouver in late January to get a closer look and to meet up with several already-arrived and soon-to-be American expatriates. Taking a day or so to get acclimated, I threw myself into this unspoiled Eden by going to the multinational Virgin megastore to purchase some Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen CDs (buy Canadian!). I also looked for Canada's greatest (only?) contribution to world cuisine, Tim Hortons donuts, which is owned by the American fast-food behemoth Wendy's.
With nothing but a Lonely Planet map and a thirst for knowledge, I sought out Vancouver's landmarks--the Gastown clock, which lets out steam and whistle-toots every 15 minutes, Brandi's Exotic Nightclub, where Ben Affleck fraternizes with strippers when in town, and the Amsterdam Café, where potheads openly smoke the potent BC bud, taunting tobacco users, who are confined to a glass cage like common criminals. (The tokers snack on "jones soda" and "chronic candy" and other foodstuffs so cutely named it could make even the most maniacal libertarian cheer for mandatory minimums.)
To see Canadian progressivism in action, though, I trekked down to the East Side, Vancouver's Compton, where the storefront Supervised Injection Site caters to junkies on the government teat. With the surrounding streets hosting an open-air drug market, the Site was conceived as a way to rid the neighborhood of discarded drug paraphernalia and promote "safe" drug-taking practices. In typical Canadian fashion, it's a long way around the barn to get rid of litter.
If the Site has in fact encouraged addicts to do their drugs off the streets, they still buy them right outside. To reach the place, I have to pass through a herd of about 100 junkies over a four-block radius. They offer to sell me all manner of substances my company won't let me expense. When I make it inside the Site, along with several itchy, twitchy customers in search of free cookers and needles and a clean booth to shoot themselves silly, an attendant tells me that unless I'm there to take drugs, I can't stay without a media relations escort. "What we do here is important, so we try to keep a low profile," he says, perhaps oblivious to the hypodermic needle that's embossed on the door.
The staffers aren't rude, however, and retrieve for me a helpful government brochure called "The Safer Fix" that has made me something of an expert on the proper way to tie off. Though it's a bit mind-blowing to a law-and-order American, this is actually pretty small beer, compared with a new Canadian government-funded study called the North American Opiate Medication Initiative. While the Supervised Injection Site is strictly a bring-your-own-smack affair, the new experiment will study the effects of giving half of the drug-addicted research subjects heroin, while the other half get methadone. As a female attendant describes it to me, we agree that it must really suck for the methadoners. But for the other side? "Dude!" she says, stating the obvious, "free drugs for a year!"
RUDI KISCHER, the immigration lawyer who went trolling for clients south of the border, has probably done more than any single person besides George Bush to induce Americans to become former Americans. At the top of a high-rise building overlooking Coal Harbor, where seaplanes land in steady succession, Kischer invites me into his office. He is tall, with the bland good looks of a soap-opera extra. By way of an ice-breaker, I tell him I flunked the skilled-worker test, and so became a journalist. He says not to worry. Up until a few years ago, lawyers were completely banned from immigrating, the first fact I've heard that recommends his country.
While numbers are hard to come by, it is generally thought that some thousands of Americans are poised to change countries, making them the largest influx Canada has seen since our draft dodgers came this way during Vietnam--much less since Brit-loving Loyalists were shown the door to what was then New France by American revolutionaries. Whether or not this is true, Kischer has plenty of horror stories from interested clients: concerned parents who are moving so their children won't be drafted into Bush's war machine, the rich guy who lives on a yacht and would rather pay exorbitant Canadian taxes than bear the shame of flashing his imperialist American passport when sailing into foreign ports.
I tell Kischer it's a bit much to swallow that so many Americans are being persecuted for disagreeing with the president, since we live in what most regard as a fly-your-freak-flag country. Take me. I wasn't keen on the war in Iraq, and I work in the belly of the neocon beast that gets partial credit for hatching it, yet I've never felt a lick of persecution for offering dissent. Kischer studied briefly at Duke (former basketball great Danny Ferry was in his poli-sci class, he says excitedly), so when I ask him if he ever felt oppressed in America, he laughs as if I've asked a ridiculous question. Of course not, he says, "but it depends on personality types, too. I'm a lawyer, so I've had worse things said to me by better people, right?"
When in America, he blended seamlessly, he says, with everyone else who shops at the same khaki-shorts store. People didn't really suspect he was Canadian, since Canada's not on the radar. "I read one article about Canada in four months," he adds. "It said the socialists are about to take over the government. From the American viewpoint, maybe they already have." Kischer voices a typical concern. Canadians are traditionally so insecure about the lack of attention we pay them that their government has even paid American universities $300,000 to study them. One of the foremost Canadian Studies programs in the country is at Duke. A professor in the program has said, "We're the most important university to make a serious effort to study Canada. That's like being the best hockey team in Zimbabwe."
MY FIRST INTERVIEW with an American comes not in Canada, but in Bellingham, Washington, about 90 minutes from Vancouver. I drive south and clear the Peace Arch border faster than I could a McDonald's drive-thru line (note to Homeland Security), and meet up with Christopher Key in his middle-class rambler with a for-sale sign in the yard. Key is still a patriot, but he hopes to soon be an expatriate. He's descended from "Star Spangled Banner"-writer Francis Scott Key, who he admits "wasn't much of a poet."
He has become a minor celebrity of sorts, profiled by everyone from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to the New York Times (whose reporter flies in the day after me). The silver-haired Key looks like a Chamber of Commerce burgher. He likes to point out he's not some stereotypical longhair, having just left his editor's gig at a failing business magazine. He's had several other career incarnations too: everything from art gallery owner to charter-boat skipper.
But Key's weirdest job was in the military, when he served in Vietnam. "They called it 'press liaison,' I think, but I was a news censor," he says. As a wet-behind-the-ears 19-year-old, he was supposed to tell media bigshots like Ed Bradley what they could and could not cover. They all ignored him. "My take," he says, "is that while I had an odious job, I managed to do it very poorly."
Key caught shrapnel on one mission, and later was ambushed in the central highlands. While running to his truck, he felt a stitch in his side. The wound took out a good bit of his right kidney, and served as his ticket home.
Though Key wasn't bullish on the war when he was drafted, he never thought of fleeing to Canada to beat it. He comes from a long military line, and running isn't what his family does. But since Bush was elected in 2000, he says he's watched the country go into a tailspin, becoming less tolerant, more mean-spirited, more judgmental. In the past, Key waited out Nixon and Reagan. "I voted for Dukakis," he says. "I'm used to losing." But the war in Iraq pushed him closer to the edge, and at about 3 a.m. the day after the election, he made his decision to eject. "All the voices of moderation--Colin Powell--were going to be replaced by yes-people like Condoleezza Rice. It's going to get worse."
He says that when satellite trucks first started showing up in his driveway, the neighbors were atwitter. He loves his neighbors, a healthy mix of Republicans and Democrats. They regularly get together for barbecues, and come see him perform in community theater. As a Universal Life Church minister--he secured his ordination certificate off the Internet for 25 bucks--he's performed their weddings and funerals. But they couldn't talk him into staying, even though his adult daughter lives next door with her family, and her former twin sister, now her twin brother, lives in Seattle. How could he stay in a place that would frown on his performing the wedding of his own daughter/son?
"Come again?" I ask.
"This gets confusing," he apologizes. His second daughter, Bonnie, it seems, "who became my son, was a lesbian before he went transgender," making him heterosexual. The twins are actually scheduled to go on Oprah to discuss this. I think I understand, but ask for a flow chart to make sure. "Listen, it won't help. It looks like an explosion in a spaghetti factory," he says. "I can't keep up--how the hell can you?"
While Key puts a premium on Canadian tolerance, he's spent long enough in the country to understand it's not Canaan. A part-time blogger, he's even written pieces with titles like "The Canadian Identity Crisis," in which he tweaks his future compatriots for being America-fixated ninnies, and for coasting on their reputation for politeness. While Canadians don't exhibit road rage, he says, they are carpool-lane cheaters and worse: "Victoria dumps its untreated sewage into the waters off Vancouver Island. How impolite can you get?"
Still, Key is leaving his homeland, and he's sick of hearing from talk-show types who say good riddance on the one hand and he should stay and fight on the other. "Shouldn't you?" I ask, picking up the latter sentiment. After all, he gets along beautifully even with his Republican neighbors, and nobody except a few journalists has questioned his patriotism. So how bad, really, is the alleged cauldron of intolerance known as America? Isn't he boxing with Sean Hannity's shadow, responding not to the America he actually knows, but to the polarized version of it that lives in his cable box?
Besides, I suggest in a windy disquisition (I've had wine with lunch) after hearing at length how he once marched for civil rights and against Vietnam, even if this ugly America is as pervasive as he says, isn't it our duty as Americans to get in on the debate, to jump into the sandbox and hit somebody on the head with a shovel while no one's looking? It's what made our country great. Our forefathers may have quit their home countries once upon a time, but they came here to build a better one.
He isn't buying. "I'm f--ing tired," he says, "and I don't need to rebuild the country. There's a perfectly good one 30 miles away."
JUST HOW PERFECTLY GOOD a country Canada is, is a matter of dispute. The expats I eventually meet buy into Canadian self-mythologizing without so much as giving the tires a kick. Yet even some Canadians gag on the constant stream of virtue-proclaiming advertorials that are, for lack of a better word, a crock. This is self-evident in the pathological Canadian claims of modesty and politeness.
Will Ferguson is a cockeyed nationalist and brilliant satirist, who calls his country "a nation of associate professors." In his book Why I Hate Canadians, he writes that his countrymen even boast about their Great Canadian Inferiority Complex. While it's difficult to go five minutes without hearing how collectively nice Canadians are, Ferguson says, "what we fail to realize is that self-conscious niceness is not niceness at all; it is a form of smugness. Is there anything more insufferable than someone saying, 'Gosh, I sure am a sweet person, don'tcha think?'"
This strain of nails-on-the-blackboard nationalism is most evident in the recent bestseller Fire and Ice, an Americans-are-from-Mars, Canadians-are-from-Venus study of the two countries' values by Canadian sociologist Michael Adams. Based on three head-to-head values surveys done over a decade, it shows Americans coming up short on matters from militarism to materialism. This is hardly news. But Adams pushes his luck, giving conventional wisdom a twirl by advancing that it is the Americans who are actually the slavish followers of an established order, while Canadians are rugged individualists and autonomous free thinkers.
Give Adams points for cheek. His is, after all, a country that didn't bother to draft its own constitution until 1982, that kept "God Save the Queen" as its national anthem until 1980, and that still enshrines its former master's monarch as its head of state. Her Canadian title is "Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen (breath), Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith." Maybe they should change their national anthem again, to Britney Spears's "I'm A Slave 4 U."
After suffering through Adams's book, I decided two can practice snake-oil sociology. So I spent three days on Nexis kicking up every comparison-survey and statistic I could find on American/Canadian values. I became so gripped with the subject I could have been mistaken for a Canadian.
This unscientific research quickly confirmed that Canadians are bizarrely obsessed with us, binge-eating out of our cultural trough, then pretending it tastes bad. Plainly the two things Canada needs most are a mirror and a good psychiatrist.
Though they don't know who they are, they know they're not us (roughly 9 out of 10 comparison surveys are done by Canadians), so they bang that drum until their hands bleed. Still, it seems there is almost nothing Canadian that isn't informed in some way by America. When the late Canadian radio host Peter Gzowski had a competition to come up with a phrase comparable to "American as apple pie," the winner was "As Canadian as possible, under the circumstances." In 1996, when Canadians were asked to name both the greatest living and the all-time greatest Canadian, 76 percent said "no one comes to mind." Another survey showed them to believe that the most famous Canadian was Pamela Anderson, star of America's Baywatch. When Canadians were asked to name their favorite song, they settled on one by a good Canadian band, The Guess Who. The song: "American Woman."
Several years ago, Molson beer aired a commercial featuring Joe Canadian, a regular beer-drinking Joe who went on a rant aboot what Canadians are and aren't (not fur traders or dog sledders; they pronounce it "about," not "aboot"). He became a media darling and a national mascot. Then the actor who played Joe moved to Hollywood to find work. When he returned, tail tucked between legs, even he admitted, "I think, yeah, it is a little sad that Canadians draw their identity not so much from 'I am Canadian' as 'I am not American.'"
While Canadians pride themselves on knowing more about us than we do about them (undoubtedly true), the problem--captured in a survey done for Canada Day in 2000--is that even historically challenged Americans know more about ourselves than Canadians do about themselves. In parallel 10-question quizzes on everything from our first president/prime minister to the words of our respective national anthems, 63 percent of Americans scored five or more right answers. Only 39 percent of Canadians did. One Canadian television critic expressed disbelief, writing, "Average Americans appear to be in worse shape--judging by the evidence on TV, anyway." She would know, since at the time of her comment, 92 percent of the comedies and 85 percent of the dramas on Canadian television were made elsewhere, mainly in America.
Where Canada fails is no big secret. Most of us know that its universal health care is a great thing, if you don't mind waiting, say, nine months for an MRI on your spinal cord injury. We all know Canadians are overregulated, to the point that Canadian rocker Bryan Adams was denied "Canadian content status" for cowriting an album with a British producer, limiting the play his songs could receive on the radio (a policy that's supposed to encourage Canadian talent, but that in Adams's words "encourage[s] mediocrity. People don't have to compete in the real world. . . . F--ing absurd").
We all know the Canadian military has become a shadow of itself. Things have gotten so dire that a Queen's University study (titled "Canada Without Armed Forces?") predicted the imminent extinction of the air force. This unpreparedness has become such a joke that Ferguson says their military ranks just above Tonga's, which consists of nothing more than "a tape-recorded message yelling 'I surrender!' in thirty-two languages."
What many don't consider is how much Canada has oversold itself in the areas where it purportedly does succeed. While it's true that the government has been much friendlier than ours to gay marriage, only 39 percent of Canadians decidedly support it. While Canada is supposedly more environment-friendly, it has been cited for producing more waste per person than any other country. While Canada is supposedly safer, a 1996 study showed its banks had the highest stick-up rate of any industrialized nation (one in every six was robbed). And while a great deal is made of Americans' passion for firearms, the Edmonton Sun, citing Statistics Canada, reported that Canada has a higher crime rate than we do.
Canadians are supposedly less greedy than Americans, yet they lead the world in telemarketing fraud, and most of their victims are Americans. Are they more generous? Not by a long shot. The Vancouver-based Fraser Institute publishes a Generosity Index, which shows that more Americans give to charity, and give more when they do.
Is the Canadian "mosaic" more successful than the American "melting pot," a distinction they constantly make? You be the judge. Imagine every decade or so America's Spanish-speaking southwesterners holding a referendum over whether to secede. It's happened twice since 1980 among the Francophones of Quebec, and some say it's going to happen again. While America has figurative language police on its college campuses, Quebec has literal ones--"tongue troopers," the locals call them--who ruthlessly enforce absurd language laws requiring, for example, that restaurant trash cans feature the word "push" on their lids in French instead of English.
Apart from the Anglo/Franco teeter-totter that Canada can't ever seem to get off, are Canadians less racist, as many of them claim? Well, like America, they saw both slavery and segregation. If Canadians today are less racist, someone ought to tell their aboriginal peoples, who've spent centuries getting their land annexed and being generally mistreated (as of 2000 in Nova Scotia, there was still a law on the books offering hunters a bounty for Indian scalps).
Recent polling shows 35 percent of Canada's "visible minorities" (such as blacks and Asians) have experienced discrimination in the last five years. Another poll showed 54 percent of Canadians believe anti-Semitism is a serious problem in Canadian society today. It certainly was yesterday. Around World War II, a few Jews did manage to squeak in--despite the policy summed up by Canada's director of immigration as "None is too many." Will Ferguson points out that more Nazi war criminals are thought to have found sanctuary in Canada than refugees fleeing the Holocaust.
But even when Canada succeeds, it carries the whiff of failure. For nearly a decade, the country sat atop the United Nations quality-of-life index, a fact that Canadian schoolchildren could parrot in their sleep. When Canada dropped to eighth, just behind the United States, its collective psyche took a beating. The next year, Canada shot past us again, but not back to the top. The headline in Ontario's Windsor Star tells you all you need to know about Canadian triumphalism: "Cheers to us, we're No. 4."
IN A SENSE, Canada is the perfect place for American quitters, as it evidences self-loathing masquerading as self-congratulation. This I learn over dinner in Vancouver. A delightful realtor named Elizabeth McQueen has enticed me with a promise any American boy likes to hear--that we'd be dining with "two very attractive lesbians." She didn't lie. One of them could make a killing as a Courteney Cox celebrity impersonator. Besides, they're psychotherapists from San Francisco. They ask me to change their names to Cocoa and Satchi since their patients don't yet know they're leaving America.
They've come to Vancouver to look for real estate, having gotten married on an earlier trip to Canada. They were politically active back home. They wrote letters to the editor for every cause: "Save the whales, save the trees, save the lesbians," says Cocoa. They hate the war and the Patriot Act and the results of the gay-marriage resolutions. They hate the conservative agenda and fundamentalist crackers and all the other usual suspects. They hate it that Karl Rove, in Cocoa's words, helped to elect "an alcoholic butthead who can't put two sentences together, cocaine addict, married to a frigid drunk-driver-murderer-Martha-Stewart wannabe."
But beneath all her gracious sentiments is something else: a loss of faith. When describing how she feels traveling abroad, Cocoa sounds like the old joke about how Canadians apologize when you step on their shoes: "I felt ashamed as I was going everywhere with my American passport. It was just like 'I'm so sorry.' . . . After the last election, I kind of lost faith in what we Americans are doing in our country."
Even many Canadians recognize that theirs is a faithless country compared with America. Not just in terms of religious belief--though they are much less fervent. As National Post columnist Andrew Coyne recently wrote in a piece chiding his countrymen for regarding American patriotism as cheap sentiment, "You see, in Canada we gave up believing years ago: in religion, in ideals, in much of anything, really. Secure as we were under the American defense umbrella, we were infantilized; having no need to defend ourselves, we could not understand why anyone else would have more. Or perhaps it was this: having renounced even the wish to defend ourselves, having absorbed the notion that the country could be destroyed at any moment by a vote of half the population of one province [Quebec], what was left to believe?"
THERE ARE SOME AMERICAN EXPATS, however, who are of more robust stock. I journey out to a hippie-leftover, New Agey enclave on British Columbia's far western shore, Quadra Island, where I actually smell spliffy smoke on the ferry ride over. At the island's edge lies the Heriot Bay Inn, owned by American Lorraine Wright. She bought it last year after moving north a while ago, partly for business opportunities, partly because of the political climate back home.
On this island, natural beauty surrounds us. Nick, her boat captain (she also owns a whale and grizzly-watching adventure tours business) takes me out through choppy coastal sounds to deliver explosives to a remote construction site, since he doubles as a water-taxi in the off-season. We look for sea lions and seals, which the locals call "rock sausages." They often serve as finger-food for transient killer whales.
One night in Wright's wood-paneled, maritime-themed bar, I meet her cast of regulars. There's the bar curmudgeon Bruce, who shakes hands with one that has lost a finger to a circular saw. He seems to like being on my tab, but spends most of the night whispering anti-Americanisms in my ear. There's oyster farmer Brian, whose border collie lolls between the tables. He offers to call up a Vietnam draft-dodger friend who might make a good interview, though the friend's not home, just as he wasn't when his country called.
Lorraine, who has a large personality and a barbed wit, blows in like a northerly in an orange Arc'teryx jacket. We tuck into a discreet corner where the barmaid keeps finding us with a steady supply of my whiskeys (bourbon, not Canadian--drink American!) and her cosmopolitans. For the next four hours, I and this former surfer girl from California, born to a Republican family before she became a bleeding heart, go at it like two drunks in a bar fight, which come to think of it, we half resemble.
She calls herself a "compassionate capitalist" and clowns on my old Clinton-bashing pieces, which she's pulled off the Internet. I try my level best to make her feel like Benedict Arnold, who lost the fight when we invaded Quebec during the Revolution, before he slunk off to England. Instant friends, with similar sensibilities, we throw flurries of rabbit and kidney punches. But just when I think my roundhouse is going to drop her like a sack of potatoes--after I posit that real Americans, whatever their political persuasion, are fighters, not runners--Wright clocks me with this:
"America is built on people leaving places. We're a country of people who've left. Constitutionally, the pursuit of happiness is something we not only honor, but something we legally protect. This ain't Russia. I don't have to stay. This ain't Cuba. I can leave.
"In fact, find me one American who would make me stay and fight. They'd say no, go, do what's right for you. I found happiness here. I'll be in BC the rest of my life. I pray to God that I don't die somewhere else, that I'm not vacationing somewhere when I die, because that would bum me out. . . .
"Pursue your happiness. We were the first country to do it. And we live for that, the fact that people have personal rights. Go where you want. Do what you want. The fact that I chose Canada is almost a bigger embodiment of the American dream. . . . I still love America."
"So you're saying being unpatriotic is an act of patriotism?" I counter, though my heart is no longer in it.
"I've had too many cocktails for that one," Wright says.
I settle the tab, and the next morning I'm off, promising that someday I'll come back to visit with my family. By then, with any luck, she'll have had a chance to explain America to her new countrymen.
Matt Labash is senior writer at The Weekly Standard.