Only Americans would take seriously the idea that a foreign politician who presided over the demise of a once-dominant political party should serve as the model for a major U.S. presidential candidate. If a German proposed that the ruling Social Democratic Party should follow former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, or an Italian suggested that the ruling Socialists should take advice from old French Communist Party boss Georges Marchais, he would be laughed out of his country. Gorbachev presided over the demise of a world superpower; under Marchais, the French Reds, who once had the power to bring down governments, have seen much of their working-class base defect to Jean Marie Le Pen, he of la droit terrible. No serious observer in Berlin or Rome, or in Moscow or Paris where these two men are known best, would suggest digging up their political carcasses. This makes Martin Brian Mulroney’s exhumation in Washington and the heart of Texas all the more curious, since Mulroney presided over the near-total destruction of the center-left Progressive Conservative Party, which ruled Canada as recently as 1993.

Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner and shares with it the longest unprotected border in the world; yet even in major border towns like Detroit, there is very little interest in the politics of our neighbor to the north, save for an occasional reference to the U.S. State Department’s bête noire, francophone separatists who refuse to abandon the late Rene Levesque’s vision of independence. For too many Americans, Canada is a land of polar bears and lumberjacks whose most famous exports are Hollywood comedians, game-show hosts, and network news anchors.

Despite the last export, the nation’s politics are given short shrift by the American media. It is dangerous to make these observations in politically correct media circles where Canada’s alleged inferiority complex vis a vis the United States is accepted, even welcomed. It is easier when your mother is Canadian and your relatives stretch from Windsor to Montreal.

Few Americans remember Mulroney, who will go down in history as the man largely responsible for the utter annihilation of one of Canada’s great political parties of the 20th century: the Progressive Conservatives, aptly called “PCs” by right-wing critics. After winning the leadership of the party in 1983, Mulroney was elected to a seat in Parliament. In the national elections of September 1984, his part}’ won one of the largest parliamentary majorities in Canadian history. But over the next eight years, Mulroney eagerly abandoned his conservative base, earning the sobriquet “Red Tory.” Increasingly unpopular because of his repeated sellouts, Mulroney announced his resignation early in 1993. In the ensuing federal election, the Progressive Conservatives were left with a mere two seats in Ottawa. The party has never recovered from the Mulroney debacle: It is now one of the smallest Canadian parties, trailing the ruling Liberals, the conservative-libertarian Reform, and the francophone separatist Bloc Quebecois. The PCs suffered another setback last year when their leader, Jean Charest, a Red Tory in the Mulroney tradition, defected to the Quebec Liberals, only to be soundly thrashed in the ensuing provincial election by Parti Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard, who may well lead Quebec to independence.

At first glance, Mulroney appears a strange model for George W. Bush, the son of former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush and a leading contender for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination. Mulroney abandoned his conservative base through a series of compromises with the Liberal opposition (for instance, his cheerleading for the North American Free Trade Agreement); he angered Canada’s English majority by creating the impression that he was pandering to francophone Quebec (most prominently with the Meech Lake Accord, whose failure dealt his premiership a serious blow). Upon closer inspection, however, the Mulroney-Bush alliance makes perfect sense.

As prime minister, Mulroney’s unapologetic pro-Americanism earned him criticism from both the Canadian left and right. The left saw him as a flunky of U.S. corporate interests; the right questioned his price for sovereignty in acquiescing to Quebec. But what really peeved Canadians, Lansing Lamont writes in his book Breakup: The Coming End of Canada and the Stakes for America, was Mulroney’s

self-applauding air. . . . He was marked as a name-dropping blarneyist with a craving for approval, a man of shallow intellectual depth with a vindictive streak when it came to dealing with associates who were not up to snuff. . . . Rightly or wrongly, Canadians may have sensed in Mulroney a man whose first-rate ambitions and achievements could never quite overcome the second rate in his character and personality. Instinctively, some may have suspected that in American politics Mulroney would have become at best a colorful Senate committee chairman, behind the scenes an artful logroller and after-hours raconteur. Like his friend George Bush, he epitomized the triumph of perseverance over talent.

Mulroney became almost a fixture at the White House, where he provided a contrast to his predecessor, the debonair Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was snobbish toward Americans in general and especially toward a succession of Presidents he considered his intellectual inferiors. Ronald Reagan barely tolerated Trudeau, and the gap in U.S.-Canadian relations widened during his administration. In fact, both were nationalists: Trudeau, determined to steer Canada along its own path, independent of the United States on the world stage; Reagan, just as insistent that America “stand tall” again in the world. But as soon as Trudeau and the Liberals were replaced with Mulroney, relations improved dramatically. During Bush’s presidency, Mulroney and his family became regular guests at the President’s summer residence in Kennebunkport, Maine. Lamont writes:

The two leaders conversed frequently on the phone, and Mulroney boasted he could reach the President anytime lie wanted, where Trudeau would have been lucky to get past the White House operator. . . . Canada under Mulroney generally supported the United States on foreign policy issues despite differences in approach.

The relationship was so chummy that Bush, who coined the term “New World Order,” suggested Mulroney run for U.N. Secretary General when the position became vacant in late 1991.

Like President Bush, Mulroney saw troubling signs of nationalism in the Quebec separatist movement. To a globalist, Quebecois independence is a step away from the much-acclaimed New World Order and its homogenized culture. In 1987, Mulroney attempted to solve the Quebec problem by negotiating an agreement among the provincial premiers at Quebec’s Meech Lake. The accord, which recognized Quebec’s status as “a distinct society,” required the approval of all ten Canadian provincial legislatures by 1990. Despite criticism that Quebec received too much under Meech Lake, the deal was soon ratified by seven provinces. Power shifted, however, in three provinces, and their premiers had second thoughts. In the interim, Quebec’s provincial government overrode a Canadian supreme court decision that a ban on English-language outdoor signs was unconstitutional. Anglophone Canada was outraged, and hard-line Quebec separatists exploited the resulting fallout.

In the end, Meech Lake was defeated by a filibustering member of the Manitoba provincial legislature and the opposition of Newfoundland’s premier. Mulroney paid a steep political price for his failure to speak out for a united Canada until late in the ratification process. And separatists in Quebec, apparently no longer welcome in Canada, eventually benefited from the fallout. In 1980, a referendum on sovereignty lost in Quebec by a margin of 60 to 40 percent; following Meech Lake’s demise, support for sovereignty steadily gained ground in the province. By 1995, only slightly more than 50 percent of voters cast their ballots against a similar referendum. The defeat of the Meech Lake Accord may yet contribute to Canada’s breakup into two, or even three, separate countries.

Yet the latest word in some Washington circles is that the Republicans can learn from Mulroney, and George W. Bush seems a willing student. Earlier this year, Mulroney made a pilgrimage to Austin, and while Governor Bush, according to the Dallas Morning News, “declined to say whether the former prime minister had urged him to seek the presidency,” he did pass on this advice from Mulroney: “He believes that it’s important for the Republican Party to unify. He’s worried that the party would tend to shatter on certain issues as opposed to unify’ on issues.”

Mulroney’s tenure as prime minister, some Republican insiders claim, proves the wisdom of a compassionate, pragmatic leader who, most importantly, understands the endless possibilities afforded by the abandonment of a party’s conservative base. Foremost among these is an insincere respectability in certain media circles. Another benefit of Red Toryism, it is said, is political respectability and acceptance among moderate voting blocs. Those who make this argument in Washington and deep in the heart of Texas forget history; Kim Campbell, Mulroney’s successor as Progressive Conservative leader, presided over the party’s 1993 drubbing, which resulted in the ascension of the Reform Party. Reform’s leader, Preston Manning, has no intention of abandoning his conservative base.

Brian Mulroney’s rehabilitation is further proof of a saying beloved by my Canadian relatives: Only in America.