Why Obama has made so little difference: reflections on Canada-US differences

This is a post I wrote for Active History last year, just before the US presidential election.

It draws on my comparative and transnational historical research and writing on the United States and Canada. I’ve stressed the importance of political-institutional structures in shaping and constraining what it’s possible for political leaders and policymakers to accomplish in each country.

In retrospect, a more descriptive title would probably have garnered more interest in this post. (It doesn’t really get explained until the end.) At the time, though, I liked the militant sound of it.

World War II Propaganda Poster, Office of Price Administration.

Less than two weeks to go in the US presidential election campaign, and the candidates are (surprisingly) running neck and neck. The sense of disappointment in incumbent President Barack Obama is palpable, especially after his sleepy first debate performance turned what should have been a runaway race into a real contest. Of course, the current disappointment is just the latest in a string of disappointments—from the failure to close Guantanamo Bay to the failure to reform social security. Combined, they have turned 2008’s campaign slogans such as “Change We Can Believe In!” into a bitter memory for many audaciously hopeful liberals, lefties, and social activists of all sorts.

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