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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 26, 2008 @ 10:33 am

    McCain risks all on campaign gamble

    Deaglán de Bréadún


    Any sentient and half-decent human being who grew up during the era of Martin Luther King and the American civil rights movement would have to look kindly on the prospect of an African-American as President of the US. But John McCain is doing his best to ensure that doesn’t happen on this occasion. 

    As with the last big hurricane, he has the knack of behaving presidential the minute a crisis breaks. He broke off campaigning to rush to Washington to add  his two-cents’ worth (no pun intended) to the deliberations on the financial crisis. It was a gamble and the outcome is still uncertain. Barack Obama also rowed-in, but McCain was out in front, at least in terms of media coverage; naturally the cameras were following almost his every move. At time of writing it is unclear if the Obama-McCain debate scheduled for tonight is still taking place.

    On a more domestic level, it was startling to hear Ciarán Staunton from the Irish-American immigration lobby making a virtual endorsement of McCain on RTE radio. Traditionally, Irish-America has been at one with the Democrats so this was the political equivalent of seeing pigs fly (with or without lipstick!)

    Judging from what Staunton had to say, the Obama camp has been pretty offhand with the Irish-American lobby. Hell hath no fury like a lobby spurned and, although Irish-America is nothing like as cohesive as Black America it nevertheless has a certain influence in the political apparatus and among political activists in the ‘States.

    The unfortunate side-effect of a McCain victory is that it would be seen as an expression of inherent racism among the American electorate. We will have to endure much media coverage to that effect afterwards with TV cameras trawling around Southern towns and foraging out places where the Confederate flag is on display.

    While there is undoubtedly a racist element among the US electorate, just as there is here, in Britain and on the Continent of Europe, I wonder if it will be a decisive factor. If McCain’s gamble comes off this week he could win the vote on experience, performance and a surer political touch.

    It’s not his first gamble of the campaign. The choice of Sarah Palin as VP candidate was another. Although the liberal Left has persuaded itself that the Alaska Governor is flakey, if not scary, she has tremendous popular appeal.

    Bush’s bailout for the financial system is clearly in trouble. Even the far-from-radical US populace is balking at what looks like a scheme whereby the taxpayer foots the bill for the irresponsibility and greed of the fatcats. Ironically it appears that the Republicans are the ones who are most hesitant about giving their support.

     Exciting, if somewhat alarming times. We have our own Day of Reckoning here in Ireland on October 14th. Government sources confirm that it is going to be a very tough Budget. Fasten your seatbelts folks.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      And to counterpoint your opening paragraph: “Any sentient and half-decent human being who grew up since the opening of Deep Impact and the first series of 24 would have to look with trepidation on the prospect of an African-American as President of the US. Because that means we’re finally living in the scary near -uture where the giant meteor is about to strike the earth or low-yield tactical nuclear devices are going to explode in the L.A. suburbs.”

      More seriously,I think the Letterman effect this week might have more impact that one would expect. As Letterman said what if another crisis comes along once he has been elected, does he suspend being president? And surely this is where his No.2 should have taken over the campaigning, or maybe not…

    • festinog says:

      I must take issue with some of your statements. e.g., “although Irish-America is nothing like as cohesive as Black America”
      You clearly have never been to the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton, south of Boston, on any given weekend. Centres like it exist in nearly every major US city. The participation of Irish, or Irish-Americans in American society and politics is so regular and cohesive that nearly every single US president since Kennedy has courted its vote. On the other hand, Black America is universally fragmented and stuck in the past. Few advances have been made since the ’60′s, and their contribution to US politics has been negligible. Massachusetts elected its first black governor only two years ago.

      Furthermore, your assertion that McCain’s rushing to Washington is an assertion of his “presidential” abilities is a view that you share only with Fox News. Every other major news network in the US is questioning his motives, highlighting how little he can actually do, and pointing out that this sudden interest in economics comes, curiously, at a time when he has started to slip dramatically in the polls.

      And finally, though I could go on, your doubt that racism could be a “decisive factor” shows an immense lack of familiarity with many American states and politics. I’ll say it again. Massachusetts, regarded by most in the US as the most “liberal” state in the Union has only just, in it’s 200+ year history elected a black man as governor. And 150 years since Lincoln’s declaration of emancipation, we are still waiting for a black president.

    • Deaglán says:

      Well thanks for the prompt response, folks. Blogs about Irish politics don’t seem to get the same reaction. Question: why do Irish people find US politics so much more interesting than their own? Is it the fact that social partnership makes so many of the decisions that could be made in the Dáil? Is it the decline of the Dáil as a serious debating forum (name one really good orator among the 166 TDs)? Is it that so many Government deputies have jobs of one kind or another to supplement their income and keep them quiet and there are hardly any real backbenchers on that side any more? Or is it that the current crop of political leaders are, as some would say, mediocre and unoriginal?
      I would persist with the view that the “race card”, important and all as it is, has nevertheless been overestimated as a factor in this election. Obama is smooth, cool and unthreatening; a helluva long way from the Black Panthers, although I suppose they were considered “cool” in their own way
      (cf. Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic) . I don’t accept your low valuation of African-American politicians, Festinog, they have had more impact than you suggest. What about the Congressional Black Caucus for example?
      As for Irish-America, I have been to cultural centres such as the one you describe and they are very admirable places but the number of Irish-born Irish-Americans is pretty low these days (thanks to Lemass and JFK back in the early ’60s.) The melting-pot factor is at work and that has political implications.

    • PMajor Alfonso says:

      Although the liberal Left has persuaded itself that the Alaska Governor is flakey
      – I think you need to take a look at her interview with Katie Couric. Flakey doesn’t begin to describe her lack of knowledge and experience for the position of VP. She appeared to struggle to even recite her learned-by-rote talking-points… She might be able to whip up the base but she comes across as more ignorant than others who could do a similar job.

      As for the McCain, he has managed to appear to do nothing. He barely murmured a word at the meeting with Bush; he claimed not to have read the Paulson proposal in full (all three pages of it) three days after it was released; he has openly acknowledged that economics are not his strong suit. And yet he thinks it’s his place to suspend a debate and go AWOL. He hasn’t suspended his campaign which is what he said he’d do, ads were still running, morning conference-calls were still being held and responses to Obama were forthcoming after his so-called suspension. It looks completely cynical. Obama’s got the polling saying the electorate trust him more on the economy and McCain doesn’t want to blow his trump card, foreign and security policy, in the middle of this situation that clearly favours Obama.

      And yes, Irish politics lacks engaging characters. Indakinny’s attempts to “Presidentialize” the last election campaign were awful. Bertie’s period has turned FF into dullard technocrats with no hint of disagreement and legislating has been turned into: PRESS RELEASE > White Paper (if no outcry in media) > Bill. The Dail doesn’t figure. That’s IF they bother to legislate at all. And now I can’t buy a bottle of wine for my dinner when I leave work at 10pm. Street drunks have all day to buy their cans though of course. *mutter mutter*

    • An Fear Bolg says:

      This gamble by McCain is crazy. As Obama says, a President needs to do more than one thing at a time. Also he has ruined things with the bailout plan and is all talk, but doesn’t appear to understand what’s going on.

      Deaglán you make a good point – I understand why people here are interested in Irish politics but I don’t get the lack of interest in Irish/European politics. When people are getting worked-up about the exciting possibility of a woman or a black man in the White House, continental Europe is pushing numerous women to high ministerial office. I remember a photo a few months back of Spain’s heavily-pregnant defence minister inspecting her troops – I thought it a pretty noteworthy sight that showed progress.

      I think it comes down to our general preference for more polished American products – clothing, sportswear, comedy, movies and politics. We like the stylish, slick and professional faux-ideological posing of people like Barack Obama, matched by the Hollywood President orations from himself and McCain. Never mind that it’s all a pretty vacuous popularity contest and actually doesn’t differ very much from our own situation.

      We’ve got a bored, lazy government in the midst of the first real challenges of the last ten years (not just the economy, but Lisbon, etc) but people here are more interested in Sarah Palin.

      By the way, I know people don’t like to hear about politicians using image/PR consultants but Brian Cowen desperately needs them. Not just to lose some weight, which he should do, but for example to stop addressing media/the nation with your arms crossed on the table in front of you looking like you really couldn’t give a sugar about the whole thing and would rather just run the country from a bunker somewhere if we would all just p— off.

    • Chris says:

      I think you’re being far too easy on McCain there, Deaglán. From my reading of US newspapers, people generally seem far from impressed by his cynical ‘let’s-put-the-campaign-on-hold’ stunt. There’s only so many times people are going to fall for that one. And by all accounts his behaviour last night in the White House was more ‘presidential’ than presidential – throwing himself about the place making declarations instead of crafting delicate and crucial policy. The more this election goes on, the less impressive the man seems. I should also add, as much as we can and should criticise our own politicians, Sarah Palin on CBS the other day made Mary Coughlan look like a political giant. I’ve heard answers with more depth of foreign policy knowledge at Miss World. Scary, and another example of McCain’s cynicism in choosing her.

    • Deaglán says:

      I think your’e being a bit hard on Miss World! I recall one winner who was a medical student at the College of Surgeons and subsequently became a paediatrician. Since when did good looks and brains become incompatible?

    • RRB52 says:

      I agree with the comments of PMajor Alfonso and Chris. Senator John “I don’t know much about economics” McCain does not bring any economic expertise to the bargaining table. The only rational conclusion is that he is there for his own political purposes.
      Deaglán: two thoughts to consider. Good looks and brains are not incompatible, but they do not co-exist in the person of Sarah Palin. And do not overestimate the intelligence of the average American voter. If McCain were to say that up is down, 40% of the voters would believe him without question. The essays of H.L. Mencken are still relevant, especially his discussion of Boobus Americanus.

    • There is a small group of Irish activists, mainly centered in New York, who were Hillary supporters and who gravitated toward Senator McCain after she lost. They’ve managed to create a tempest in a teapot against Obama, which has backfired on them this week when their candidate, Senator McCain, attended an Irish Forum in Scranton and started his speech with a ‘drunk Irish’ joke. Obama, in the meantime, has always had the support of the more thoughtful group of Irish-Americans, led by George Mitchell and various congressmen. You can see more details at http://irishamericansforobamabiden.blogspot.com/

    • festinog says:

      Thanks for responding. My interest in US politics stems from the fact that I have lived in the US for the last three years and am involved with the Democratic Party at a local level in Providence, RI. Unfortunately I am prevented from full participation by nature of the fact that I do not have citizenship (only a green card) so for example, I cannot contribute to Obama’s campaign financially; much and all as I would like to.

      Not to belabour the point, but I would be curious to know on what information you base your assertion that “the number of Irish-born Irish-Americans is pretty low these days”. It certainly hasn’t been my experience attending the numerous Irish cultural events that occur through-out New England.
      The Black Caucus as an entity is confined to the House of Congress, which despite the intent of the Founding Fathers, is little more than a talking shop; the real power lies in the Senate. In direct contrast to our own Dáil and Seanad.

      Since the Civil War there has only been five black senators. Senator Barack Obama is currently the only black member of the Senate. In the House of Congress out of a total of 435 Representatives, only 42 of them are black. This small number, though they act as a block, is too small to effect any change or enact legislation to any degree. For example, they voted unanimously against the War in Iraq. We all know how that ended. The lack of black participation in mainstream US political life is indicative of the marginalisation of the blacks in US life; a marginalisation rooted in the past as indicated by Obama’s Reverend Wright controversy.

      Again, the impact of the race vote on the next election cannot be overstated. It is possible that up to 17% of the voting electorate could be inspired to vote against Obama on the basis of his skin colour. In what will be a close election this percentage is huge. When one considers that until recently the Capital Building in South Carolina flew the Confederate flag instead of the ‘Stars and stripes’ and that Arizona only recently decided to make MLK Day a state holiday, the degree that racist sentiments have been institutionalised in many southern states would shock many people unfamiliar with these areas. One need only remember the debacle of Hurricane Katrina as an example of this.

    • RRB52 says:

      festinog: I agree that racism is a potential problem for Obama, not only in the South but among older white voters across the country.
      Racism is the “elephant in the room” of this presidential election, and one wonders if polls will be skewed by the “Bradley effect” (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bradley_effect)
      The estimates I’ve seen of Obama’s possible loss of votes due to racism range from 3% to 6%. How disappointing.

    • Thanks Festinog (curious as to the origin of your pen-name) for that thoughtful and considered response. I haven’t got figures to hand but am told by usually-reliable sources that the number of Irish-born Irish-Americans is in serious decline. Unlike your good self, many of them have no legal status and there is a crackdown on illegal immigration as you know. I spoke at length with an undocumented Irishwoman on my last visit to New York in July who painted a dismal picture. Perhaps with our own economy in Ireland mired in recession, people will start looking Stateside again.
      On the racism factor, I still believe it cannot be ignored but should not be overestimated. The great thing about Obama is that he showed black candidates are kicking an open door if they want to run for president. Previously we have had Colin Powell and now Condi Rice as Secretary of State. Their colour was not an issue.
      Say not the struggle naught availeth.

    • festinog says:

      festinog – a small town in Wales. Also the name of Fionn McCumhaill’s idiot Welsh cook created by my father when I was a child, to give the Fianna stories a twist that, had he bothered to write them down, would have made me the proud heir of a large fortune. Oh well.

      I suppose it’s all a matter of personal experience. I was at the Railway Cup final in Canton, MA, two years ago when then Lt Gov. and republican candidate for that years Massachusetts gubernatorial election Kerry Healy showed up to canvas support. There was a crowd of several thousand, mostly illegal, Irish immigrants from Dorchester and South Boston whom Healy hoped to address at half-time. She was vehemently opposed to immigrant reform; so one can only wonder which of her staffers thought it was a good idea to address that crowd! The silence which answered her speech was deafening. She was quickly escorted from the field and was never seen again. It was probably one of the most entertaining spectacles I have ever witnessed and almost made-up for Connacht’s defeat that day.

      I’m going to be a total pedant now, and would argue that Colin Powell and Condi are simply exceptions that prove the rule. I never argued that blacks have not climbed to the top in many aspects of American life. But it should be pointed out that both those people were appointed to their positions. I wonder how much success they would have experienced had they needed to be elected.

      But thanks for engaging Deaglán; there is no doubt that I am very lucky to be in the US for one of the most contentious and important presidential elections since WWII, and it is very important for me to see how this race is being covered at home as well as here in the US. After all, the results of this election will impact on us all, no matter where we live.

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