Barack Obama, Joe Biden… and the Irish Americans… and the Irish too… August 25, 2008Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Reading in the Irish Times on Monday last the following fairly irascible piece by Niall O’Dowd one might have reasonably been wondering just what Obama was playing at.
For O’Dowd came to critique, not praise. He made some fair points such as:
…questions are being asked about whether he is quite the racing certainty he appeared after the Democratic race drew to a close in June.
After an impressive victory over Hillary Clinton (whom I supported) the Illinois senator set forth with a wet sail for the White House. Media excitement reached its zenith on the night of his final primary victory and Republicans referred caustically to the “anointed one”.
Since then, however, his campaign has seemed becalmed at times. He remains only three to five points ahead of Senator John McCain in major national polls, while generic Democrats lead Republicans by up to 15 points when the question is asked which party voters will support.
Right across the leadership of the Democratic Party there is an increasing unease that they might somehow blow their best chance at the White House in a generation. An unpopular president, a disastrous war and ailing economy should make this a landslide Democratic year. But yet the polls stubbornly have McCain in a virtual dead heat with Obama.
And that unwelcome name appears again.
Part of Obama’s problem relates to his difficulty in expanding his winning coalition over Hillary Clinton.
He put together African Americans, liberal whites and moderate independents, but never cracked the DNA of the white working class who remain the single biggest voting bloc up for grabs, especially in key states.
Perhaps. We shall see.
Mind you, there are one or two other statements that are – interesting.
We will soon find of if Barack Obama was merely a creation of a powerful left-wing caucus in the Democratic Party who was never going to win a general election, or a leader for the ages who confounds contemporary political wisdom and wins the White House in truly historic fashion.
Obama the creation of a ‘powerful left-wing caucus’? The man who throughout his bid for the nomination played to centrist tropes (even in his handling of the Iraq War issue, which to his credit he voted against). Surely O’Dowd protests too much. Particularly in light of his own analysis of of the coalition that Obama has put together thus far. But then as a piece at the foot of the article notes O’Dowd was not merely a ‘supporter’ but ‘…for a time an active member of Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential election campaign team’.
And what of:
Meanwhile, in the Irish Echo newspaper last week, Prof John McCarthy, a conservative Catholic commentator, also took issue with Obama’s lack of outreach.
Commenting on his “failure to visit Ireland” on his recent overseas trip, McCarthy stated: “One cannot imagine Hillary Clinton avoiding such a trip . . . surely an aspiring world leader would want to acquaint himself in greater detail with an apparent success story in the resolution of conflict.”
McCarthy went on: “A more likely explanation might well be the unimportance his campaign strategists attach to the Irish vote in America.”
That’s right. They are really really uninterested. And John McCarthy is a disinterested observer of such matters.
Indeed O’Dowd continues:
That could certainly be the case; repeated attempts to have Obama address an Irish presidential forum have failed while it now seems very likely that John McCain will take the opportunity in the near future.
The frustration is mirrored in other ethnic communities I have spoken with and even among old labour supporters. Some of the labour leaders apparently expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of outreach in no uncertain terms in a recent meeting.
Imagine that. It’s quite a charge. Obama indifferent to his roots, and more than that, effectively snubbing them. Political dynamite for an Irish American journalist to be making this close to an election.
What a pity though that he didn’t trouble himself to talk to – say – some Irish people, or indeed the Obama campaign. For curiously the very next day in the Irish Times in a report by Denis Staunton one reads that:
MINISTERS MARY Hanafin and Noel Dempsey and opposition leaders Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore are among the Irish political figures expected to join counterparts from Kenya next week to celebrate Barack Obama’s roots in both countries at a lunch during the Democratic convention in Denver.
That’s right too. Obama, bizarrely looked to both sides of his family…
Mr Obama’s father came to the United States from Kenya but his mother’s family traces its ancestry to Moneygall, Co Offaly.
And far from the gloomy prognosis that O’Dowd relates we read:
Stella O’Leary, president of Irish-American Democrats, who is hosting the lunch, said Mr Obama’s shared ancestry in Ireland and Kenya was part of the “great American story” his candidacy represents.
And better still:
“It’s a great, interesting story and his Irish ancestry is not widely known in America. This is a chance to tell that story to Irish-Americans and to highlight the close bonds between Ireland and Africa,” she said.
But in a further slight to the Irish, and Irish Americans, Obama has selected, not Hillary Clinton, I mean of course… er… hold on. He’s selected another figure entirely.
Step forward, for it is he… Joe Biden. I’d sort of pegged Biden as a bit of a lightweight, not merely for his unusual hair colouring during the campaign for the nomination, but also due to his rather crass (albeit on the fly) comment about Obama which I won’t bother relating here. I caught him on the Daily Show soon after and he handled his appearance fairly deftly and with a degree of self-deprecation that was probably necessary. But his experience on foreign affairs is sterling being a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. One might even term him – for better and for worse – an original ‘liberal interventionist’ for his stance on the Balkans. And he wasn’t shy about supporting the Iraq venture. That said, mitigating that, once the war was in train he did pull back and became a vociferous critic. Regardless, there are many who will wonder about just what sort of person is going to be second in command should Obama make it to the Oval Office. And perhaps with good reason.
On the other hand in political terms he’s a much safer bet than some of the names that were thrown around earlier in the Vice Presidential candidate selection process. How he shores up the ticket is difficult to know. His policy experience presumably is no harm. His old white maleness likewise.
But a lot depends on the Convention this week. I’d draw peoples attention to four key events above and beyond Obama’s words on Thursday. Firstly the input by both Clinton’s. Slate’s Political Gabfest had an interesting take on it suggesting that Bill (Wednesday) might be unable to pass up the opportunity to shine in front of the crowd and, more than likely, would be very positive. The feeling was that Hillary (Tuesday) might be the one to not quite emphatically enough support Obama. I don’t know. Hillary Clinton will presumably want to keep her options open for 2012 should Obama fail… Either way, worth watching. Then there is Ted Kennedy’s pre-recorded video address (not sure what day, probably today) to the Convention. That should be worth checking out, if only because he positioned himself in the Obama camp relatively swiftly. And then we have Michelle Obama’s piece today where probably we can expect to see no hint of her earlier spikiness. Which is a pity, but tells us all we need to know about the nature of contemporary politics. The Slate piece also made the interesting point that whatever about Bill Clinton the guest speaker with real ‘rock star’ appeal was… Al Gore.
Meanwhile spare a thought for the fact that Biden’s 1988 Presidential bid collapsed in part – almost surreally – over his plagiarising a Neil Kinnock speech (which is in a way the equivalent of – say – David Cameron pilfering Mary Harney’s undying prose… shudder). I can’t quite work out is a good thing that Biden was savvy enough to think of a Kinnock speech as worth quoting (which he apparently attributed correctly most of the time), or not so good in that he would take that as his role model. Dangerous reformism. Obviously. I’ll leave that for others to decide.
But on the Irish issue Biden is iron-clad.
Not merely Irish (and what a contest this is all shaping up to be, with Scots-Irish McCain) but a Finnegan on his mothers side. And… Catholic. Roman Catholic!
Neil O’Dowd, read it and veep. Read it and veep. Ahem.