Many bloggers around the world have been talking about the upcoming U.S. elections. One such blogger is the Darryl Wolk, who resides in Canada and blogs about politics in general. I recently had the opportunity to ask the prolific blogger a few questions about his life, interest in politics, and thoughts on the 2008 U.S. elections.
Tell me about yourself, Darryl.
My name is Darryl Wolk and I was born in Kapuskasing, Ontario Canada. I attended the University of Windsor and did my MBA with undergrad degrees in Political Science and Commerce. Politically, I have volunteered for several leadership races and local election campaigns for the Conservative Party of Canada, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and have been active in municipal elections in my current town of Newmarket, Ontario and located just outside of Toronto. I am currently the President of the Newmarket Rotary Club and care deeply about international issues and needs within my community. I started a blog initially with the purpose of providing information and opinion about issues I care about locally, provincially and internationally. I have family in both the US and Canada but am a Canadian citizen and do not hold US citizenship. On Super Tuesday, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend a few days campaigning for Barack Obama and witnessing his speech live in Chicago. It was a great experience and felt like the Superbowl of politics from a Canadian point of view. I think Reuters and Global Voices website Voices without Votes is doing a great job in terms of gathering a group of talented international bloggers with diverse opinions on the upcoming US Presidential race and I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to participate.
When did your interest in politics start?
I have been interested in politics and current events almost all of my life but really started taking an interest in my first year of high school. I have been heavily active in Canadian politics since the Progressive Conservative and Reform parties merged and Belinda Stronach was running for leader representing my riding of Newmarket-Aurora.
What, initially, got you interested in U.S. politics?
I first got interested in politics during the time of Reagan who I admire a great deal. NAFTA was a major issue in Canada at the time. I also liked Bill Clinton and felt he was a great leader who I respect a great deal and have had the opportunity to hear him speak on a couple of occasions in Toronto. In Canada, American politics is everywhere. Ninety per cent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border, the largest undefended border in the world. All of the major newspapers have been filled with coverage of the primaries. We get the American version of CNN as opposed to the international version seen elsewhere. Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS and many other American networks are readily available here. The Colbert Report and Daily Show are popular in Canada along with late night talk shows and Saturday Night Live. This current election has been very exciting for Canadians and Americans alike. Recent polls in Canada have shown that a majority of Canadians would trade their Canadian vote for a one in the US election while another showed Barack Obama would win a Canadian election as leader of either the Liberal Party or Conservative Party.
American politics has a huge impact on Canadian politics. Eighty pc of our exports go to the United States with bilateral trade volume worth 1.5 billion per day. Canada is the America's number one energy supplier and this has resulted in massive development of the Alberta oil sands. In Windsor I lived near the Ambassador Bridge where 10 million vehicles travel back and forth to Detroit each year. Good Canadian relations with the United States essential for our economy, security and shared international interests. As members of NATO we are fighting shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan with American forces and also experienced casualties in the 9/11 attacks. We consider America are closest friend and ally along with the UK. We chose not to participate in the current Iraq war, although we took part in the first Gulf War, Kosovo, Korea and in two world wars where we fought shoulder to shoulder for freedom with the United States. Arctic sovereignty is becoming a big issue in Canada following Russia planting a flag at the North Pole. The decline of the US dollar is also hurting our manufacturing based economy in Ontario. Issues like NAFTA-gate with Obama and John McCain coming up to deliver a speech in Ottawa has injected Canada into the US election campaign and the US Presidential race into our upcoming federal election. Good relations with the United States are crucial to our economy, security and foreign policy in Canada.
It is also impossible to talk about issues like Russia, China, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Kosovo, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan or bringing peace to the Middle East without factoring in US foreign policy and decisions coming from the American president. Progress on issues like the environment, poverty, disease, human rights, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, terrorism and the global economy cannot be achieved without the United States stepping forward and playing a large leadership role. How Americans vote in November will have a major impact on how the rest of the world moves forward on a series of issues that have a global impact.
How do you think most Canadians, or non-Americans in general, view politics in the U.S.?
I think Canada is a bit different than most non-Americans because of our shared cultures and exposure to American media and politics. People in Europe, the Middle East, South America, Africa and Asia would have a different view of American politics based on their own unique perspectives and issues of concern.
In many ways American politics is seen as the big leagues with Canadian politics being the minor leagues. American campaigns are huge with hundreds of millions spent and 24 hour news coverage on TV every day not to mention the blogs, Facebook, YouTube and mainstream media. Election night coverage with exit polls, immediate projections and best political team on television coverage is unheard of here. Right now in Canada, we do not have the charisma or hype around any of our leaders in the same way we have seen South of the border with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and some of the other contenders in the primaries. I think most Canadians are fascinated with the primary process and current race going on in the United States between John McCain and Barack Obama.
Polls show Canadians are heavily rooting for Obama regardless of age, gender, province, and political affiliation. An interesting poll asked Canadians who they most admire among the leaders mentioned below. The results were as follows:
* Barack Obama: 26 pc
* Stephen Harper (Current Canadian Prime Minister and Conservative leader): 21 pc
* Hillary Clinton: 16 pc
* Jack Layton (Current NDP leader): 9 pc
* Gilles Duceppe (Current Bloc Quebecois leader): 6 pc
* Stephane Dion (Current Liberal leader): 5 pc
* John McCain: 3 pc
I think Canadians are hungry for any change after George Bush and would see either Obama or McCain as a major improvement over the current administration on both management of foreign affairs and the economy. The prospect of the first African American president (and when Hillary was in the race the prospect of the first female President) is a story that is also interesting to many Canadians. I think McCain is personally respected in Canada but his party is affiliated with the record of Bush who's approval ratings in Canada are much lower than the historic lows we are seeing in the United States.
Why do you think so much of the world is blogging about U.S. politics?
The world is hungry for leadership. Who is going to save the earth from global warming? Who is going to prevent a global recession? Who is going to stop the genocide in Sudan? Who is going to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians? Who is going to deal with Iraq, Syria, Iran, China, Russia and North Korea? Who will do something for those living in extreme poverty in Africa and elsewhere? Who will fight for democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms? George Bush has alienated most of the world with his stance on the environment, the war in Iraq and a series of other issues. Rising powers in China, India, Brazil, Russia and elsewhere are challenging American influence in the world and it is important for the next President to repair strained relationships with the rest of the world and restore its rightful role as a leader on many of the issues activist bloggers around the world care about.
Have you had many reactions to your blog from Americans? If so, what were they?
A couple of Americans have commented that I should butt out of US politics, but most are just interested in discussing the issues and candidates I tend to write about. Any post about Ron Paul seems to draw a lot of comments from American readers demonstrating his internet following. The biggest debate on my blog has been among Canadian Conservatives who are split between McCain and Obama.
Why do you think so much of the world supports Obama?
He represents change from George Bush and politics in general, he has the potential to be the first African American president, his words are inspiring and he represents a more multilateral approach to world issues. Obama's willingness to talk with Americas enemies, his opposition to the Iraq war and his environmental policies are also likely well received in many places around the world. I think the world is as frustrated with George Bush as most Americans. For a lot of young people, he also represents generational change and a spirit of unity as oppose to the division we have seen over the past 7 years. Obama represents the American dream and all that is great about the United States. John McCain is well respected and has a great story as well, but unfortunately he is tied to the Republican brand that is not popular inside or outside the United States.
If you could vote in the U.S. general elections, who would you vote for?
I have an American cousin serving in Iraq and another in the navy stationed in the Persian Gulf. In Canada I also have a couple of cousins fighting in the Afghanistan war. In the case of Iraq, I would like to see the troops come home as soon as possible. In Afghanistan I would like to see more American troops to support our Canadian troops in what has been seen by many as the forgotten war. Personally I would vote for change and for me it would have came down to either Ron Paul or Barack Obama. While Ron Paul is closest to my personal views, Barack Obama would get my vote based on the two choices that are currently available. I am excited about his message of change, unity and his positions on foreign affairs. If I was an American I might be concerned about what he would do with regards to taxes, government spending and issues where his lack of experience might hurt him. Having said that, I think John McCain would represent a third term for George Bush's foreign and economic policies despite the fact he has proven to be a maverick in the past and certainly could be considered a strong friend to Canada.
In terms of running mates, I predict Barack Obama will eventually select Hillary Clinton. I think after earning 18 million votes and campaigning hard for well over a year she deserves the spot more than the other options available. She brings some experience, ensures party unity and deserves credit for bringing a lot of the excitement into the Democratic primaries. I also think if he picks someone besides Hillary, that person will be compared to Hillary and the pick will be constantly debated in the media and among Democratic supporters. A Obama/Clintons ticket would be unstoppable in my opinion. I do not think it would be worth the risk of the Obama campaign going off message by picking someone else unless he is concerned about shoring up his national security or economic credentials. If I was John McCain, I would go with Condi Rice who is clearly the biggest rising star in the Republican Party, has the strongest experience, would be ready to step into the job right on day one and is also rumoured to be a maverick or moderate within the Bush administration. I think in the end he will pick Mitt Romney because McCain admits himself that he is not strong on the economy and that will be the ballot box issue; not Iraq come November. Schwarzenegger or Powell would be great fantasy picks for McCain, but Schwarznegger was not born in America and cannot be VP while it is unclear at this point who Powell will be supporting in November.
From the perspective of a Canadian, I look forward to watching Americans democratically elect their own leader this fall and I expect that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will work well with either President Barack Obama or President John McCain. Canadians and Americans have great relations and I look forward to that continuing even if from time to time we disagree on some of the issues. There are a lot of challenges to face and the world is excited about the next President restoring America's image and leadership in the world during these difficult times. God bless America.