Popes, terrorists, politicians and hypocrites

Popes, terrorists, politicians and hypocritesFollowing the news can be instructive in more ways than one. In addition to keeping you abreast of what’s happening, the response to certain stories can be illuminating. Take, for instance, last week. When Pope Francis nailed his climate colours to the mast, he didn’t bring any fresh scientific information to the table. Instead, he…

Don’t bet the farm on a Clinton/Bush rerun

Bush is a long way from a nomination and hairline cracks are appearing in the Clinton campaign

Don’t bet the farm on a Clinton/Bush rerunThe formal campaign launches of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have moved the American presidential campaign’s temperature up a notch or two. And with the first Republican debate scheduled for August 6, less than two months from now, political junkies can settle in for a long ride through to November 2016. But will it really…

Napoleon’s Waterloo was 200 years ago

But it may have been better for Europe if he had won

Napoleon’s Waterloo was 200 years agoJune is a big month for historical anniversaries. Last week, I wrote about the 800th birthday of Magna Carta – the medieval charter that’s often described as seminal to the development of parliamentary democracy. This week, it’s the Battle of Waterloo, the clash that finally ended the Napoleonic era. It all happened on June 18,…

Magna Carta 800 years old this month

Initially a simple power grab by the aristocracy, the “Great Charter” inadvertently led to parliamentary government

Magna Carta 800 years old this monthHistorians and historical memory have a habit of anointing certain events as seminal, and Magna Carta (Latin for Great Charter) is one of those. Or at least it is in the Anglosphere, loosely defined as those English-speaking democracies that initially evolved out of the great diaspora from the British Isles. So, as it celebrates its…

Canada’s first “great political debate” was a dud

Held in 1968, just like today the parties manoeuvred for advantage in establishing the ground rules

Canada’s first “great political debate” was a dudWith the current controversy over the leaders’ debates for the upcoming federal election, it’s interesting to take a trip down memory lane and revisit our first televised confrontation. It all happened on June 9, 1968, before a vast audience – estimated at 14 million out of a population just shy of 21 million. But despite…

Politics, prime ministers and pariahs

Betraying the electorate triggers powerful negative emotions

Politics, prime ministers and pariahsSorting through the post-mortems on the recent U.K. election, I came across an interesting Sunday Times piece from the English novelist/journalist Robert Harris. In it, he made reference to the pariah status of two former British prime ministers – Ramsay MacDonald and Tony Blair. Unless you’re something of a history buff, MacDonald’s name probably rings…

Two election upsets loaded with lessons

What columnist Pat Murphy learned from the PC defeat in Alberta and the Conservative victory in Britain

Two election upsets loaded with lessonsPolitical aficionados certainly had a double helping of drama last week. In Alberta, the NDP’s upending of the long-running Progressive Conservative dynasty wasn’t on anyone’s radar. And in the U.K., everybody anticipated a hung parliament rather than the Tory majority that emerged. Here are my takeaways: Alienating large chunks of your base is a risky…

Conventional wisdom and the fall of Saigon

Conventional wisdom, especially when its purveyors have a moralistic bent, is a precarious guide to reality

Conventional wisdom and the fall of SaigonAlthough it’s been 40 years, the images still pack a dramatic punch. As Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese Army on April 30, 1975, thousands of people – primarily at-risk Vietnamese – were evacuated by helicopter. Two years after the last American troops had departed, the long war was finally over and the reckoning was…

The US Civil War ended 150 years ago this month

The number of related military deaths easily surpassed the combined total of American fatalities from both World Wars

The US Civil War ended 150 years ago this monthWhen Ulysses S. Grant accepted Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April 1865, it effectively ended the bloodiest conflict in American history. Hard as it may be to grasp, the number of related military deaths (Union plus Confederate) easily surpassed the combined total of American fatalities from both World Wars. And as anyone who’s…

Democratic presidents and the trouble with Russia

A little humility would have served Roosevelt, Kennedy and Obama well when dealing with Russia

Democratic presidents and the trouble with RussiaA recent column about Franklin Roosevelt and the advent of the Cold War prompted a question. How might the Roosevelt/Stalin relationship compare to the current one between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin? In turn, that got me thinking about how American presidents, particularly Democrats, dealt with Russia. Why focus on Democrats? Well, they’re supposed to…