In the Week in Review section of today's New York Times, John Leland analyzes Pew Center survey data and determines that Americans are so gosh-darn optimistic, and such believers in individual pluck and initiative, that it's no wonder we love Reagan:
In the rolling tributes to Ronald Reagan last week, a question lingered: why was he revered by not only those who had fared well in his America, but by many who had not.
One answer, no doubt, lies in a conviction that runs throughout American history. It is the faith that we are all on the verge of joining the favored class ourselves....
In a global poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2002, 65 percent of Americans said their success depended on forces within their control, more than double the percentage in old world countries like Italy and Germany, and triple that of India, Turkey or Pakistan....
There's just one problem with this explanation: Canada.
The Pew survey Leland quotes is here in PDF form; he's referring to question 17. (The results of the question also appear in a bar graph that accompanies Leland's article in the print Times.) As Pew reports, 65% of Americans believe people mostly shape their own destiny -- but so do 63% of Canadians.
If that's the case, why do Americans (allegedly) revere Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of the far right, while Canadians, as another article in today's Week in Review notes, "support national health insurance, multiculturalism and gun control laws"? Why does rejection of the notion that "success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control" lead to support of Reagan (and Gingrich and Bush) in America, while Canada embraces the Liberal Party, whose leader, Prime Minister Paul Martin, "said in his very first campaign speech: 'You cannot have a health care system like Canada's, you cannot have social programs like Canada's, with taxation levels like those of the United States'"?
Canadians like shooting guns as much as Americans do, as Michael Moore notes in Bowling for Columbine, but they don't hate gun control and they don't fear imminent overrun by barbarians. I guess the Canadian belief in both self-reliance and affirmative government is another wacky Canadian paradox.