WASHINGTON – It’s not every day that the crowd’s reaction to a speech becomes a story – yet Canadian politicians might have achieved just that with their rapturous response to U.S. President Barack Obama.
At the daily White House briefing Thursday, a presidential spokesman was asked about Canadian MPs’ boisterous applause and playful campaign-style chants of “Four more years!” as the soon-departing president addressed Parliament.
“I noticed that,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest replied.
“I’m sure that he did (too).”
International newswires delivered stories about the adoring response around the world, with video or print items about the chanting on websites for The Washington Post, Fox News, the major U.S. TV networks, and in more distant places like the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph.
Time Magazine invited audiences to click on the headline: “Watch as Canadian Lawmakers Chant for ‘Four More Years’ of Obama.”
Some commentators viewed it as a moment of triumph for a president who has begun a global farewell tour – his popularity remains high abroad, and it’s increased enough at home that Hillary Clinton has invited him to help campaign for her.
Some, however, found the reaction weird.
“I love Canada. Have a home there. Wonderful country. This is embarrassing,” tweeted Stuart Stevens, who was a senior Republican strategist in the last election.
“It’s Parliament not a group of 14-year-old girls having a private Justin Bieber concert.”
The response was so exuberant that Canadian MPs gave him a standing ovation while he was asking for more money from Canada, to meet its unreached military spending targets at NATO. Obama cleverly slid that request into a section of his speech filled with natural applause lines, about the world needing more Canada and the quality of the northern neighbour’s soldiers.
MPs once again sprang to their feet again. A transcript of the speech counted about four-dozen applause breaks.
Some Americans later joked about the possibility of Obama moving north, to extend his political career. He’s constitutionally precluded from seeking a third term in his own country by the 22nd Amendment of 1951.
Canada allows foreign-born citizens to run for high office.
Yet, it appears Obama has no interest in becoming the second Canadian in his family. He referred in the speech to his brother-in-law from Burlington, Ont.: “I give Burlington a shout-out,” he said.
Southern Ontario MPs can rest easy: he won’t be moving to their region, and challenging them for their seats.
“I’m not aware of any plans that the president has to run for Prime Minister of Canada,” Earnest said.
“As lovely as Ottawa was yesterday, I think the president would prefer a warmer climate.”