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July Sixers Get the Cake; Canadian Gets the Crumbs

The moment was for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, but it disappeared when President Bush embraced the celebrants of July 6 birthdays at the lectern: Todd Mizis, center, Raghubir Goyal and Richard Benedetto, right.
The moment was for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, but it disappeared when President Bush embraced the celebrants of July 6 birthdays at the lectern: Todd Mizis, center, Raghubir Goyal and Richard Benedetto, right. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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By Dana Milbank
Friday, July 7, 2006

For Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it was the all-important photo op: the grinning handshake with President Bush in the East Room after yesterday's joint news conference.

Then Raghubir Goyal of the obscure India Globe newspaper ruined everything for the visiting premier. "Happy birthday!" Goyal called out to Bush, who was celebrating his 60th. "We share the same date!"

"Today's your birthday, too?" asked a delighted Bush, dropping Harper's hand. "Well, come on up -- let's have a birthday picture. Come on, come on, come on. Come on, come on, get up here! Anybody else have their birthday today?"

Within moments, USA Today's Richard Benedetto took the stage, too. "If we start to get any more, I'm going to start to question it," said a befuddled Harper, who stood off to the side, rubbing his nose, as his photo op disintegrated. "Another one?" Harper blurted out when a sound technician from the State Department, Todd Mizis, joined the group.

Television crews in the rear struck up a round of "Happy Birthday to You." The cameras zoomed in on the four birthday boys, cutting the Canadian out of the action.

For the Americans, it was a bit of harmless fun. For the Canadians, it was another reminder of how little interest Americans have in them.

Just minutes earlier, Harper had pleaded with Bush and Congress to reverse a plan to require that travelers between the two countries have a passport rather than the usual driver's license. "If the fight for security ends up meaning that the United States becomes more closed to its friends, then the terrorists have won," Harper urged -- in French and English.

Bush could not be very encouraging. "We are responding to congressional law," he replied, neglecting to mention that he signs the laws.

In his defense, Bush was in a tough spot. He was hoping to reward Harper -- "Steve," as he repeatedly called him -- for toning down the anti-Americanism north of the border since his Conservative government came to power in February. But Bush increasingly finds himself the internationalist president of an isolationist country. On issues such as trade, immigration and diplomacy, he was urging Americans yesterday to resist their inclination to turn inward.

As in: "It's in this nation's interest to trade with Canada."

Or: "What takes place in other parts of the world can come home to hurt the American people."

Or: "HIV/AIDS on the continent of Africa is a threat to our security, in the long run. . . . I think it's in our interest."


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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